in teachers' nook

car one dog nil

what is this anyway?

this is, obviously, a test. a test is a surefire way to draw students’ attention. since I don’t teach at schools, I never get to do actual tests. you know, ones that get graded. the tests that I do in my classes are only supposed to let the students know how they would do if this were the real thing. or how it feels to be interpreting with little time to spare. so if the students simply choose to tune out and sit one out, there’s nothing I can do. the upshot is, I have to make the tests not only challenging but also fun.

earlier today I was on the way over here … I was walking down the street thinking … when suddenly I saw a car hit a dog … the dog was hit pretty hard … and he was stuck under the front wheel … until the driver backed up

making a test fun isn’t as hard as it sounds. what you need to do is prepare the students for it without letting them know that there is going to be a test. nor should they be aware that the story you’re opening this class with is actually what they are going to be tested on. well, that’s what makes it so much fun. the moment you say the first sentence for them to translate and they look up and go, „haven’t we heard this before? oh, I knew I should listen to that.“


how do I introduce a test like this?

anyway, you open the lesson by telling your students a story. the most important thing is that you make it sound natural, as if you have just thought of it. here you have a story about a dog that you have seen that got run over by a car. it doesn’t really matter that you didn’t actually see it just as long as you sound convincing enough to make them believe you did. (I actually did see this happen.)

to be honest, he seemed to be dying … his owner dropped everything he was carrying … and was going to pick him up … so that he wouldn’t get run over by another car … except the dog bit him on the arm … and made him scream ;-)

make sure you use all the vocabulary in your intro so that during the test your students don’t have to stop halfway through sentences groping for words they have never heard.

here are the words that I think you should definitely mention and write on the whiteboard when introducing this particular test

be stuck … back up … owner … run over … except

keep in mind that the vocabulary is NOT the point here. in fact, it is the last thing the students should focus on. although granted, there are distinctions to be made depending on your own preferences. for instance, I want the students to learn to use be stuck but not back up. you may disagree and reverse the order.

in any case, you would do well to also include phrases such as earlier today / walk down the street / to be honest / it made him scream etc. in your intro, maybe they’ll stick long enough to make it into their translations. of course, usually they don’t. the students nod along as you talk, never realizing understanding is not enough. but it’s ok. at least when you point out to them after the test that you did actually use all these phrases in your intro, they will pay closer attention to what you say in the future.

a lady riding by on a bike … suggested that they should take the dog to a vet … the driver agreed to drive him there … even though he didn’t have a lot of time … so everyone got into the car and drove off
whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger … except getting hit by a car, I guess

the rest they really should know (yes, including drop / hit / suggest etc.). if they don’t, I’m sorry to say it’s your fault for failing to bring them up. by the way, this is supposed to be an exercise for intermediate students, intermediate being a rather encompassing term in this case


ok, so what do I do exactly?

1. tell them the story: good opening words would be „I ran into this guy the other day and we got to talking…“ or „I went to a party last night and…“ or, in this case, „you’re not going to believe what I saw on the way to school today…“

at the end of it, just anyway your way to the next item on your schedule, as if you’re done with this. do other things for some time and then…

2. …about twenty minutes later announce that there is going to be a simultaneous translation test. well, it sounds much better if you don’t use those very words. I prefer just saying „get ready to translate what I’m gonna be saying“.

now, what they should keep in mind is:

a) they are interpreting for a guy who pays them so they can’t just skip a line if they don’t know how to translate it, they have to translate it in some way or another

b) at the same time they want to do a good job of translating to impress the listener who might then ask their employer to give them more money next time


car one dog nil

do about six lines at a time. do not correct anyone, though a nod in the direction from which you hear some nice bits and a glare directed at anyone who makes a blunder will liven things up a little. when you’re done with each section (that is, six sentences), read the correct english version—slowly enough for students to recall what they said in order to compare and draw conclusion, fast enough to make it impossible for them to write it down (more about that later)

před pár hodinama jsem byl na cestě sem zrovna jsem šel po ulici a přemýšlel když jsem najednou uviděl jak do nějakého psa vrazilo auto praštilo to do něj pořádně a on zůstal pod předním kolem dokud ten řidič necouvnul upřímně řečeno se zdálo že umírá jeho majitel pustil všechno co nesl a chystal se ho zvednout aby ho nepřejelo nějaké další auto akorát že ten pes ho kousnul do ruky až z toho zakřičel ;-) jedna paní co jela kolem na kole navrhla aby toho psa vzali k veterináři řidič souhlasil že ho tam zaveze i když moc času neměl tak všichni nasedli do auta a odjeli co tě nezabije to tě posílí kromě toho když vás srazí auto, předpokládám

doing a test like this is always going to be a fine balancing act. you need to encourage insecure students to try their best even though everyone around them is faster, more precise and seemingly coping effortlessly. tell them (preferably in private) they shouldn’t just repeat what they hear everyone say. it’s quite possible they will get something right that no one else did.

at the same time, you need to ask the show-offs to keep it down. let them know they don’t have to prove their worth here and they shouldn’t make the others feel inferior. what I’m trying to say here is that the best way is to have everyone mumble their translations loud enough for there to be a buzz in the classroom but soft enough that no one else is disturbed or distracted. like I say, a fine balancing act.

3. if there is time at the end of class and if at least twenty minutes have passed since the first round (only doable in 90-min. classes, I’m afraid) you can go through the whole text (or best of) quickly once again. the students will roll their eyes if they fail to recall some of the phrases once again but will be pleased to see that they have retained most of them in their minds.

4. a day or two later, e-mail/distribute the czech version of the test to the students and give them a few days to translate it. then do a thorough analysis in class.

5. send them the english version that they can, nay must, post up in a place where it catches their eye often (until it is replaced by the next hang-up sheet). a bathroom comes to mind. no kidding.


what if there are more ways to translate?

make sure they know why they shouldn’t say

he picked the dog up not to get run over again

she suggested to take the dog to the hospital

I saw a car to hit / I saw how a car hit / I saw a car hitting a dog

everything fell him down the owner

among other things, that is


to be sure, it is advisable to acknowledge that there are alternatives to many of your translations to keep from looking like the tyrant you are. at the same time you’ should point out repeatedly that the reason they learn English is not to strengthen their „but it’s good enough to make myself understood, right?“ convictions but rather learn new ways of expressing the same ideas.

in other words, make sure they understand why they should learn to use

earlier today rather than a few hours ago (and tell them to cut the „but what if this was just after midnight“ crap)

I was walking down the street rather than I was going on the street

on the way over here rather than when I was going/coming/walking here

the dog seemed to be dying rather than it seemed that the dog was dying

he was going to pick the dog up rather than he wanted to pick the dog up

even though he was busy, he drove rather than he was busy but he took

he didn’t have a lot of time rather than he hadn’t a lot of time

everyone rather than all of them

všechny výše uvedené alternativy jsou formálně v pořádku. teď je na každém jednotlivém studentovi, zda chce mluvit stejnou zglajchšaltovanou angličtinou jako naprostá většina jeho souputníků nebo jestli vynaloží úsilí na to, aby vystoupal k trochu vyšším metám.

(considering that the entire explanation up until now has been in English, one would think only a total ass would do the final two paragraphs in Czech. one would be right.)

v prvé řadě se nicméně snažte vyhnout stupidním debatám o tom, jestli je lepší pick the dog up nebo pick up the dog a jak dlouhý musí být předmět aby se up dalo hned za pick a ne až za ten předmět a jaký je rozdíl mezi it a that a jestli je pes he nebo she nebo it protože v angličtině jsou prý zvířata vždycky s it a jestli by šlo namísto until použít ’til a jaký je přesně rozdíl mezi somebody a someone a jestli se před pár hodinami dá vždycky překládat earlier today protože co když se to stalo těsně po půlnoci a tak dál až do umrtvění jakéhokoli smysluplného výkladu. studenti tyhle debaty milují, to samo o sobě signalizuje jejich zbytečnost.

here are the print-outs: