Lost in Translation

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The use of translators is becoming more and more common today. If you need to say something in a language you don’t know just go to Google translate. It’s probably right. Right?!?

translations fail 1 translations fail 2 English in Asian Airports translations fail 4 translations fail 5 translations fail 6

There was clearly no language expert on duty when these errors were committed! (My favorite is “Spanish here”! Ha!)

Translators can be a huge help to a language learner. They are a lot like dictionaries. They shouldn’t be banned but students need to learn how to use them!

This is a fun video to show students about Google translation problems…

If you’re noticing more and more translation errors, than it’s time for a little talk with your students. (It might even open the door to talk about careers in translation or advantages to knowing a second language in each of their potential job fields.)  Getting mad or giving the student a zero for translating is pointless. Put yourself in their shoes… Would you ever do long division on paper if you had a calculator in your pocket? Students most likely won’t have their conjugation tables with them all the time, but they will have their phones!

Instead of fighting the translator tool, learn about it together. Take a day and look up phases and words and let students discover what works and what doesn’t! Compare translators, dictionaries, and apps. Which ones are most reliable? Maybe they can write a guide on “how to use a translator in a language class” for you to give to future classes!

Don’t be afraid to learn with them. You know the language and they know technology, but in the end we are on the same team!

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16 thoughts on “Lost in Translation

  1. If a student of mine was reading this, he or she could confirm how much I say this: in relation to translators: “Remember, don’t crutch on it!” Looking up a word or two is fine, but they know (some after the fact) not to put sentences or bigger chunks into it. I encourage them to use Word Reference and take advantage of is forums (some have even made accounts and posted questions themselves). I’ve also showed them how to use google.es to search the translated word in images/pages to see if it’s legitimately used.

    • Sarah,
      This is a great example of teaching! It makes me think of the old saying… “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.”

      This lesson will last longer than their days in your class!
      (Oh, and thanks for reminding me about word reference!)

  2. Great post, as always. It is worth noting that Google Translate is learning and will continue to improve at “figuring out” context with strings of words. Google explains how it works here: http://translate.google.com/about/
    As the translator evolves, I believe its utility to language learners will as well and it’s important that we teachers stay informed so that we are giving students accurate feedback about the tools they use.

    • Noah,
      You’re right! I had a student explain to me the other day how online robots improve the more you use them. It’s really interesting! Another reason to learn to incorporate tech in our lessons and make what we’re asking students to do less “google-able.” Thanks for sharing!

  3. I teach Spanish and this one time I had a girl that was utterly shocked to learn that she had gotten a zero on her writing assignment. She told me how hard she had worked on it and that it had taken her several hours. Even her mother tried to tell me how unfair it was…until I showed the mother the paper. She had accidentally translated her essay into French! Needless to say, the grade stood.

    In an attempt to head online translator use off at the pass, I started this year by putting the song “Call Me Maybe” through Google Translate twice and they laughed so hard about how bad the English that we got back was. I’ve had fewer translator issues this year than ever (I used to have 1-2 issues per outside-of-class writing assignment. I’ve had 1-2 issues all year by doing this: I just write “Don’t forget Call Me Maybe” as part of my “no translators” spiel on the assignment).

    I also show them how to use WordReference by taking them to the computer lab and having them use a class account that I set up (some of them are not yet 13 and thus not old enough to have their own accounts). The username and password are always available on my website and I periodically check to see if they use it at all and I’m always pleased with how many of them post questions.

    • An essay in French! That is hilarious!

      I love how you took the time to use something they are really familiar with and teach them about the “dangers” of translators. Very cool!

      • I actually ended up having to use a different translator the second time because Google translate recognizes what you typed in originally and just spits back exactly what you had to begin with. After I used Google translate, I copied the translation to freetranslation.com and it worked.

  4. I have been looking for ideas to show students the problems with Google Translate for ages and never found anything interesting…Thanks for this! Will definitely use it soon! ;)

  5. Similar topic: today I was talking with an English teacher and she showed me citationmachine.net to make correct citations. Tech should make our life easier!

  6. I am showing this next week……Love it.
    I’ve done little things to show them how silly they sound to us and how obvious it is to us when they use it…they still don’t believe me! We’ll see how this goes :) Thanks!

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