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Proverbs are often used to give a situation a more metaphorical meaning. The interpretation of proverbs involves the representation and processing of figurative language. Without the usage of proverbs in our writings or in the English language, I dare say that the English language could possibly be a very dull one. A person who uses proverbs in his daily speech certainly exudes a flair for this language.
The usage of proverbs by MARA College Banting (MCB) students in the English language can be said to be very rare. Here in MARA College Banting (MCB), I have observed a certain trend in the habits of students when it comes to the usage of proverbs. I notice that, the students here only take the trouble to learn proverbs when the examinations are drawing near. It is not uncommon to see the students reading the list of proverbs and idioms given in the English B Higher Level handbook an hour before the English Language examination. Based on this trend, I have come to the conclusion that students who speak English as their second language only read proverbs for the sake of using them when writing their essays during the examinations. This moved me to ask myself three questions. Firstly, do these students actually comprehend what they are reading, or are they just interpreting the proverbs by translating them into their mother tongue? Secondly, do these students go through a thought process in trying to comprehend the meanings of these proverbs and why a certain comparison was made between the meaning and the proverb itself? Lastly, in the event of a student being given a proverb, which was uncommon to him, what would be the most dominant method of interpretation among students in MARA College Banting in trying to interpret the proverb?
Given that I had all these unanswered questions playing around in my mind, it moved me to study the method of interpretation used by a second language learner in trying to interpret the meaning of a proverb.
Thus, the research question of this extended essay is:
"How far does the usage of translation prove to be a successful tool in enabling Second Language Learners in MARA College Banting to interpret proverbs correctly?"
This research paper aims to investigate the extent to which second language learners in trying to interpret proverbs use translation, and how successful it is in giving a correct interpretation of the proverb. The purpose of this research being done is to know whether translation is a prominent method used by second language learners in trying to interpret proverbs. I also aim for this study to serve, as a guideline that can be used by teachers when teaching their students proverbs so that they can make rectifications to the ways they might teach their students proverbs in the event that the current method used by their students is unsuccessful. This will help the second language learners to interpret proverbs more successfully. This research paper will also be able to confirm or falsify my assumption that translation is the most prominently used method among English Second Language Learners in Mara College Banting in trying to interpret proverbs. I will then take a look at the success rate of the translation method used by the second language learners to interpret proverbs and compare it with the success rate of other methods used by these second language learners. Based on the results I have obtained, I will analyse the shortcomings of the translation method in interpreting proverbs based on the mistakes made by students. By the end of my analysis, I hope to be able to deduce whether the translation method is the most prominent method used by English Second Language Learners in Mara College Banting to interpret proverbs and whether or not it is a successful tool in helping students to interpret proverbs correctly.
Freeda Wilson, a French Lecturer in Canada, studied the use of translation based on proverbs and metaphors. The two languages that she used for her study were French and English. She found out that, more often than not, proverbs have equivalents in other languages. However, the linguistic similarities are not the only things that come into play. The differences in culture between the two origins of the two languages should also be taken into consideration. Even if a translation had a linguistic equivalent, the difference in culture could probably result in the interpretation of the proverb being incorrect. It is essential for us to know that not all proverbs have accepted translations. To be able to translate an English proverb into another language, the key metaphor in the English proverb, must have an equivalent in the language it is being translated into. If the key metaphor does not have an equivalent in the language the proverb is being translated into, it is highly unlikely that translation into another language is an appropriate method to interpret a proverb's meaning.
Besides that, similarities in specific cultural traditions between the lands of origin of the two languages will also permit the use of translation to interpret a proverbial meaning. For example, the French proverb, 'L'honneur fleurit sur la fosse' literally translates into 'honor flowers on the grave'. But by understanding that there are cultural similarities in England and France regarding traditions surrounding death ceremonies, the literal translation might be able to bring about a more sensible meaning by analyzing the key metaphors of the translated meaning. The same concept will lie with translating an English proverb into another language, like Malay, in the case of my study.
Choice of students
My target students for this research were students who speak English as a second language. The reason for this was because I wanted to find out how these second language learners interpreted proverbs. I wished to investigate the extent to which second language learners in MARA College Banting use translation in interpreting proverbs and how successful this tool is in interpreting proverbs. I wanted to try and deduce the different instances in which they might try to use translation in trying to give definitions to proverbs.
I also chose to involve people who spoke English as a first language in their households in this study. The purpose of me involving them was to make a comparison between the two groups of students as to how often each group of students used translation into their mother tongue in trying to interpret proverbs.
There were twelve students involved in this study, six English First Language Learners and six English Second Language Learners. Six students were chosen so that an optimum amount of information could have been collected to be able to conduct this study. I analysed my data by splitting the first language learners and second language learners into two separate groups and analyzing each group collectively and not based on each individual.
Choice of proverbs
I worked on the assumption that the majority of second language leaner students in Mara College Banting usually translate proverbs to obtain their proverbial meaning. So, I attempted to manipulate this by choosing proverbs which are not commonly used so that it will result in them having to think and interpret the meaning of a certain proverb. Had I chosen proverbs which were commonly used, it would have defeated the purpose of this research being conducted as the students would have just responded to the questionnaire by giving definitions to these proverbs which they already know. The students would not have gone through a thought process in giving the meanings of the proverbs. A total of 15 proverbs were given for each student to interpret.
Choice of method used to conduct this study
The method used to conduct this study was the Think Aloud' process. This experiment was recorded on a voice recorder. The purpose of this process being used was because; the students being tested would be able to convey to the experimenter the actual thought process they were going through and method of interpretation they were using when they were attempting to interpret he proverbs. A questionnaire was handed out to the students instructing them to give their interpretation of all the proverbs and how they arrived at those interpretations.
I analysed my data by looking focusing on the use of translation by students in trying to interpret the proverbs given to them. I made a comparison between First Language Learners and Second Language Learners as to how often translation was used by each group of students in trying to interpret proverbs. I then proceeded to analyse the errors made by second language learners when they tried to translate proverbs into their mother tongue.
1.Second language learners in MARA College Banting rely on the use of translation into their mother tongue when trying to interpret proverbs.
2. The translation they use is direct translation.
3. This method is not appropriate to be used and is highly unsuccessful.
On the whole, the usage of translation to interpret proverbs only occurred once among the first language learners. Based on graph 1, of the 90 proverb interpretations given by the first language learners, they got 73 correct, which is just above 80 percent. This means that for every proverb, on average, 5 out of the 6 first language learners managed to correctly interpret the proverbs. For second language learners, out of the 90 proverb interpretations given by them, they only managed to give 36 correct interpretations, which is about 40% of correct interpretations from first language learners. On average, roughly 2 to 3 of the 6 second language learners managed to give correct interpretations for each proverb. The proverbs ' worry often gives a small thing a big shadow' and 'all that glitters is not gold' were the proverbs which most students interpreted correctly. All 12 students managed to interpret these two proverbs correctly. The proverbs 'the pen is mightier than the sword' and 'if a camel gets his nose in a tent, his body will soon follow' were the proverbs that the least number of students could interpret. . Only 2 students managed to interpret those two proverbs correctly. There were 5 proverbs which none of the second language learners could interpret. These proverbs were 'a rolling stone gathers no moss', 'dead man tell no lies', 'if a camel gets his body in a tent, his nose will follow', 'if wishes were horses, then beggars would ride' and 'the pen is mightier than the sword'. However, despite the usage of translation and memory being the most prominent methods used to interpret proverbs, there were other methods used by the students to interpret the proverbs given to them. As expected, the first language learners managed to interpret the proverbs given to them better than the second language learners could. First language learners also used their memory to give meanings to proverbs more than the second language learners. The second language learners resorted to the translation method to interpret the proverbs given to them 51 times out of the 90, which is equivalent to about 57 percent of the time. However, out of the 51 times second language learners used translation, only 11 correct interpretations were given by the respondents that is just under a 22 percent success rate. The second language learners did not resort to the translation method 39 times. Of those 39 times, they managed to interpret the proverbs correctly 23 times. This is equivalent to 59 percent of correct interpretations when translation was not used. Percentage wise, the second language learners fared better when they did not use the translation method to interpret proverbs.
Based on the data that I have collected, it is clear that the translation method is not a successful tool for Second Language Learners to interpret English Proverbs. Based on the data I collected, the translation method proved to be error-strewn. There were a variety of errors made by students in relation to translation. The errors made by students by using translation are as follows:
Interpretation of Proverb with similarities in the key metaphor.
There are proverbs that have similarities in key metaphors. The similarities in key metaphors means that the important terms that define a proverb are similar in meaning both in the English Language and the target language. Such is the case with the proverb 'a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush'. Despite the similarities in the meanings of the key metaphors, the usage of translation still managed to bring about incorrect interpretations of this proverb.
Student S6 interpreted this proverb by translating it into the Malay Language. His interpretation of the proverb was, that something is more valuable if we work hard for it in comparison to something of the same value that we do not have to work for.
By taking a look at the interpretation given by student one we can see that he interpreted the proverb incorrectly despite the fact that he managed to correctly identify all the key metaphors in the proverb. He managed to identify that the metaphor 'bird' refers to something that is valuable; the metaphor 'hand' refers to something refers to our grasp and that the metaphor 'bush' refers to a difficult situation. However, he failed to make the connection between those three key metaphors and interpret the proverb to mean that something we have within our reach is worth more than something more valuable that is not a guarantee for us.
Interpretation of proverb with key metaphors having different meanings in different languages.
There were instances where translation failed to give the correct interpretation due to the differences in the meaning of the key metaphor in English and the Malay language. Let us take for instance the following interpretation of the proverb 'a rolling stone gathers no moss' by student S5.
Student S5 interpreted this proverb by translating it into the Malay Language. He identified that in the Malay Language ' a rolling stone' is compared to someone who is hardworking and is not idle. He interpreted the key metaphor 'moss' to be a symbol of misgivings in life. He then concluded that the proverb means that if we work hard in life and not remain idle, we will not suffer from any mishaps and misgivings in life.
Although student S5 managed to correctly identify the two key metaphors in this proverb, which were 'a rolling stone' and 'moss', he still misinterpreted this proverb. These key metaphors are not equivalents when used in the Malay Language and when used in the English Language. In the Malay Language, 'a rolling stone' is a representation of anything that is in motion and which is not idle. This contradicts the meaning of 'a rolling stone' in the English Language. In the English Language, 'a rolling stone' is a reference made to someone who cannot stick to what he is doing or to a fixed job. While moss is symbolically a bad element in the Malay Language, in the English Language, 'moss' in the proverb represents experience and benefits. So, this shows that if the key metaphors are not equivalent in English and the language it is translated into, then, the method of translation will not be able to give a correct interpretation of the proverb.
Interpretation of proverb, which has no cultural equivalent.
The proverb 'strike while the iron is hot' brought about an incorrect interpretation by a student who used the translation method.
The interpretation by student S6 was done via translation. By translating the proverb into the Malay Language, the element of heat represents great desire and motivation. Thus his interpretation of the proverb was that when someone does something, he must go all out if he wants to be successful.
This interpretation was wrong. It is possible that the student might not have understood this proverb due to the cultural differences between England and Malaysia. The occupation of a blacksmith was very common in England in ancient times. However, this was not the case with the Malay culture. This so called non-existence in the Malay culture probably contributed to a student not knowing that a blacksmith always decided to mold his iron bars when they were at high temperatures. Had this particular occupation existed in the Malay culture, the student might probably have been able to correctly interpret this proverb. The student also translated the term heat and interpreted it as great desire, when in actual fact it means a golden opportunity. The differences in key metaphors could also have contributed to the student's failure to interpret the proverb correctly.
Interpretation of proverb which adds prefixes and suffixes to translation
Certain translations may add prefixes and suffixes to the proverb. This can bring about misinterpretation. Student S1 added a prefix to his translation of the proverb 'Rome was not built in a day' that resulted in his interpretation of the proverb being incorrect.
Student S1 interpreted this proverb to mean that we should take our time when trying to achieve success. When translated into the Malay Language, he interpreted the key metaphor 'Rome' to mean a big achievement. The metaphor 'not built in a day' was interpreted to mean that things take time.
This translation brought about an incorrect interpretation of the proverb. The Malay language is one that uses a lot of suffixes and prefixes. Sometimes, the usage of different prefixes or suffixes could change the meaning of a sentence. Thus, this student used a prefix when translating which caused his interpretation of the proverb to deviate from the actual proverbial meaning.
Incorrect interpretation of a proverb that gives literal meaning despite correct identification of key metaphors.
Sometimes, even when a student manages to correctly identify key metaphors, he does not manage to give a correct interpretation. Let us take a look at the interpretation of the proverb 'the pen is mightier than the sword' by a student.
Student S3 interpreted the proverb to mean that our words can hurt people more than our actions. He translated the key metaphor 'pen' to mean words that we speak while he interpreted the key metaphor 'sword' to refer to our actions.
Second language students are always looking for metaphorical meanings for proverbs and never consider the possibility of a proverb giving a literal meaning like in this case where the proverb simply means that written words overpower any dangerous weapons. A student instead chooses to look at the proverb by giving comparative metaphorical meanings to the two key terms in the proverb. In this case, the student compared a sword to a persons actions and a pen to the words spoken by someone. In this case, the student would have been more successful had he just taken the literal translation of the proverb instead of trying to look for a hidden meaning behind the translation he had made.
In conclusion, I can say that my initial assumption that the majority of second language learners in MARA College Banting resorted to the use of translation to interpret proverbs was correct. However, something that I did not expect was how students did not use direct translation all the time. They used translation where they thought necessary and then made comparisons of meanings between the English Language and the Malay Language before coming to an interpretation. The use of the translation method proved to be less successful in comparison to when students did not use translation to interpret proverbs. Based on this study, the English Language lecturers in MARA College Banting can highlight to their students the different problems that arise when a student uses translation to interpret a proverb. I also obtained the answers to the three questions I asked myself at the beginning of my study. The students do not understand the proverb they are trying to interpret the vast majority of the time and use translation as a mean of trying to obtain an interpretation. The students in MARA College Banting do go through a thought process in trying to interpret the proverbs. This thought process could be seen when students were trying to make relations with the key metaphors in the English Language to their literal translations in the Malay Language. Lastly, second language learners in MARA College Banting usually resort to the use of translation into their mother tongue to obtain interpretation for a proverb in English.
There are a number of ways I felt this study could have been conducted better. First and foremost, all the second language learners who were my subjects spoke Malay as their first language. I could have probably obtained more varied result if I incorporated students who speak Mandarin or Tamil as their first language. By doing this, I might be able to see whether translation into either of those two languages manages to give better interpretations of proverbs in comparison to the Malay Language.
Secondly, I could have probably increased my sample of students to a larger number. This will serve to increase the accuracy of my results and will make my study more valid. It is not possible to make a definite conclusion based on a study conducted on six subjects.
Thirdly, I would have also given the subjects handouts so that they can fill in their interpretations of each proverb and method of interpreting the proverb onto the handout. This would have made data collection much simpler especially because documenting the results from a voice recorder takes a long time and sometimes, distracting sounds in the background makes it difficult to make out what a student is trying to say on the voice recorder.