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Making the Most of Online Translators in Foreign Language Classes

The following is an excerpt from this issue of the CLEAR newsletter.  Please click the link below to read the full article.

Despite the ungrammaticality of many translated sentences, students will continue to succumb to the temptation of using translators, and banning them from language classes is probably futile. Instead, mistranslations can serve as beneficial teaching opportunities. Several years ago, my then ninth grade daughter asked me to check her French essay. I laughed when I read the sentence, J’aime courir transnational. I explained what happened when she entered I like to run cross-country into the translator. We then checked two other online translators. The first produced, not surprisingly, J’aime courir le pays en travers, but the second result caused me to pause and try to recall my rusty French. The sentence was J’aime diriger le pays fâché, which means I like to manage (run) the angry (cross) country. I will now always remember the words for to manage and angry. Bringing humorous results to the attention of your students as they arise should certainly make students wary of translators, while also serving as grammar and vocabulary mini-lessons, particularly to help them understand parts of speech and the lack of one-to-one correspondence across languages. Nevertheless, a series of systematic lessons can be even more beneficial. After an introductory lesson on the dangers of translators, lessons on how to use translators to check grammar and vocabulary can be conducted, as well as lessons on using translators to revise essays and to investigate pragmatics.

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