Monday, 30 July 2012

Article 5: Making the most of online translators in foreign language classes

Students’ tendency to blindly rely on online translators was something I experienced both during my practicum and when tutoring. My sponsor teacher emphasized the need to clearly show using an online translator was considered plagiarism. I told students that looking up individual words and short idiomatic phrases was okay, but I do not think they knew how to use the translators to their advantage. I noticed students sometimes used online translators as a kind of security blanket, entering words they that they themselves could correctly translate into French when asked. One of my students used a translator for his homework and got many answers wrong, but then was able to correct the mistakes right in front of me when he took the time to think about it. Showing samples of badly (and comically) translated text would be both funny and emphasize the potential pitfalls of online translators.

To get students to view online translators as a powerful tool (rather than as a crutch or something they must always avoid), I would have to explicitly teach the students a new way of using them. Polio’s suggestions for a series of lessons focused on online translators are great, particularly her idea of having a contest to see who can write the funniest mistranslation of a text. This game would require an understanding of how the L2. I think it would also be a good idea to show students that not all translators are equal. Most probably simply use Google translate or the first service that pops up in a Google search, so pointing them to the better ones would be beneficial.

As technology continues to develop, I wonder if there will come a point when online translators can perfectly translate simple writing (or at least to a level where it will be hard to tell). If this happens, we as teachers will certainly need to show the value of translating “by hand”.

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