22 December 2013

Google Translate Addiction: Genius Hour experiment, part 6

I confess. I used Google Translate on my last two novice Genius Hour posts in Portuguese. At first it was just one word at a time, just to copy the accents. I looked it up in WordReference first, though, I swear! Then I needed a little conjugation, just a little taste, to make sure I was right. I checked WordReference after, though, I did! The forums and everything!

I can quit any time I want, really!

But did you know you can get the translator to pronounce stuff for you? And you can save phrases to, like, a frequent flyer list? AND you can tell them if a phrase was helpful, unhelpful, or offensive?

I don't know, man, maybe translators should be, like, legalized or something.

Tony Wagner tells us we as teachers must adapt our approach to a world where we are no longer the sole purveyors of knowledge: it's there for the taking for anyone with an internet connection. What students need from us now are the tools to frame questions and form informed responses. I mean, if what they need is on the translator, who are we to deny them access?

But, Señora! What if they're stranded on a mountaintop with no wifi! Or--or their phone battery dies before they can find out where the bathroom is! Or it gets stolen! Or they drop it in the toilet! Or...or they're in a job interview!

Well, that would suck for them, wouldn't it? But as many times as your algebra teacher tried to tell you that you wouldn't always have a calculator with you, exactly what percentage of the time is that true for you now? I'd say maybe 10% of my day, personally. But I will say that rapid calculation skills came in handy while I was working the drive-thru at Wendy's in college. And figuring grades is easier when I can think faster than I can type. But I HAVE a calculator, several of them, and it would be silly not to use them when it's faster. Mind you, I won't be applying for any jobs that require lightning-fast math skills any time soon, either.

Yeah? Well translators are inaccurate!

I love this video as much as the next language teacher, but really? For it to get really unintelligible, it had to go through at least one non-logographic translation, and our kids are not going to go through more than one language to get what they want anyway. And honestly, is that first translation any less accurate than any other novice? And aren't we always talking about how it's about communication over accuracy?

Understand, too, I'm approaching this as a teacher who's taught exactly ONE class of Spanish III, and my students are usually more than satisfied with their two years, thank you very much. Kids going onto AP? They're going to need to operate without a wire/calculator/Google. My kids? Probably not.

I had been hoping that Joann Clifford, Lisa Merschel, and Deb Reisinger were going to solve all of my translator questions in October's Language Educator, and while they didn't tell me how students should use translators, they did confirm that it's a fool's errand to try to just ban them, with literally 100% of students surveyed indicating they should be able to use them somehow. With my Genius Hour experience, I have to say, I'm inclined to agree.

Of course my Genius Hour situation is distinct from my students' in two key ways: 1) they have a teacher who knows the language and 2) I have experience learning languages. They have someone to tell them when Google Translate knows not whereof it speaks, and I have an inkling of when I should doubt the translation I get. Case in point: Google doesn't know the difference between onde and aonde OR that adonde is one word. On the other hand, without Google Translate, I would have kept incorrectly writing Portuguese questions with Spanish structure.

So here are the commandments I plan to implement to make

  1. Thou shalt use Google Translate only for presentational communication: not interpersonal, and not interpretive.
  2. Thou shalt translate no more than 5 consecutive words.
  3. Thou shalt guess how to say the word or phrase before consulting Google Translate.
  4. Thou shalt consult a dictionary to confirm results.
  5. Thou shalt Google unexpected results to confirm proper usage.
  6. Thou shalt maintain a Phrasebook of words searched more than once, exporting said Phrasebook to Google Sheets to share with your teacher.
  7. Thou shalt play the audio for any searches and repeat the word or phrase aloud.
  8. Thou shalt enter your finished writing and change it back to English to find places to edit.
  9. Thou shalt edit your writing until the English translation makes sense.
  10. Thou shalt play the audio of your finished writing before reading it aloud to yourself.
We will definitely have to practice these commandments procedures, and I'll have students submit evidence of their steps a few times at the beginning of the semester. Of course the Phrasebook spreadsheet sharing will be part of it, but early on, I'll also have them submit the following with some of the first writing assignments:
  • the word they need to find
  • their guess
  • what Translate said
  • the relevant dictionary entry
  • Google results (showing the word used in context)
For the pronunciation application, I'll require a few recordings--audio or video--of them playing the recording and repeating.

I think it would be well worth using translators for even the first month of class, if only to make the class understand the critical thinking necessary to evaluate the results they get.

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