Monday, September 10, 2007

A Wow! Moment in a Classroom

I was helping out in a high school science class last week. The teacher wanted to have a tool that allowed her to post a question to her students, and get immediate feedback with students' comments showing up quickly without having to get an e-mail approval. We were going to use a blog, but then I remembered that our school had a Think.Com account. The Think site is supported by the Oracle Foundation and has been around for a while. It has built in protection against inappropriate comments being made, and in order to get an account, the administration of your school must request it. It has a somewhat cutesy interface, but the students don't seem to mind that.It also has a lot of tools built into it, many of them like the ones on Moodle or Studywiz. Well, the teacher decided to give it a try, so she posted the following question. "What do you think the most pressing environmental problem is today?" The students immediately posted their ideas, but one among them was having some difficulty. This class contained a Spanish speaking foreign exchange student with limited English. She was having some difficulty with the language. In a few moments, one of her peers who could see that she was struggling, quickly accessed Google Translator and translated comments into Spanish so that she could participate fully. What a moment! The power of the internet.....Posted by: Becky Ranks


Diane Whitmore said...

As a Spanish teacher, I enjoyed this story of a translation site being put to a positive use. Most of my experience with it, as well as that of other language teachers, has entailed students writing their language homework in English and running it through an online translator! One girl actually gave me an angry and impassioned defense of that practice, saying that if she wrote a paragraph in English and the website translated it into Spanish, it was still "her work"! I, and most language teachers I know, have long since stopped giving homework which involves expository writing in Spanish/French and now have all such writing done in class. There are certainly plenty of worthy uses of the Internet in language teaching, but the online text translators don't make the cut.

For those who don't know, online translations are not even close to syntactically or grammatically correct. They render vocabulary equivalents so one can get an idea of the message of the source language text, but in some cases they are barely comprehensible. Internet translations have a unique awkward sound and a pattern of grammatical errors that make them instantly recognizable as Internet and not human translations to anyone who understands the language in question. Just thought I'd mention that in case anyone was entertaining notions of translating anything and publishing it in a professional capacity!

Becky Ranks said...

Thanks Diane for that information. I knew there were some issues with translators, but this particular moment transcended those.

Diane Whitmore said...

I agree; that's a cool story. My point wasn't to throw a wet blanket on your story, but to inform people who aren't familiar with translation sites that they do get abused and don't produce accurate translations. I probably should have come back to my topic sentence at the end of my post and reiterated that it was nice to hear a story that gave me a reason to like Internet translation sites. That's what I get for posting during Red Sox games...I will endeavor to do better in the future! (If the Sox lose many more key games, the season will be over sooner rather than later...but this is the wrong blog for that rant!)