The role of previous foreign language knowledge when translating from Italian as an unknown language into L2 English or L3 Spanish or French

Linda Smidfelt, Joost van de Weijer


The aim of the present study is to examine and describe Swedish upper secondary students’ use of their background languages while translating a text from Italian, a language unknown to them, into either their L2 English or their L3 French or Spanish. The assumption here is that searching for similarities between these languages is a natural feature of language learning and that intercomprehension can lead to at least limited understanding of an unknown language. The written translations were analysed quantitatively by calculating translation accuracy in the different languages and qualitatively by means of a retrospective questionnaire on the translation process. A psychotypology questionnaire was also included to examine the participants’ perceptions of the similarities between the languages involved. The majority of the participants stated that they perceived Spanish to be more similar to Italian than any of the other languages involved in the study. Moreover, the results show that the students in the group that translated into Spanish translated the text more accurately than those who translated into French and English. The comments in the retrospective questionnaire show that the students reflected on similarities between the languages on a lexical level, but also on structural and phonological similarities. Contextual cues were also important for the participants’ inferences and translations.


intercomprehension, Italian, third language, translation, psychotypology

Full Text: PDF

Moderna språk - Romanska och klassiska institutionen - Stockholms universitet - SE-106 91 STOCKHOLM
ISSN: 2000-3560