Thursday, April 04, 2013

One language learner's story

We can assume that almost every learner has a cell phone, or mobile, and uses it, and some have electronic dictionaries, and use them, and some have a tablet with internet access and can get Google Translate (GT) easily. Many have a combination of the above. Students are sensitive to what their teacher says, and what the teacher prohibits. They want to please. They want to learn the language too.

So it was that some Chinese students were using Google Translate to crunch whole sentences, although it was possible to put one word at a time through the electronic dictionary, and most could do one word at a time on the phone through one app or another. There was a difference between one word at a time, though, and a whole sentence. When you wrote a whole sentence in Chinese, and crunched it through GT, it would have much more garbled grammar and the teacher would get very angry. It was almost as if the teacher recognized Chinese word order through the translated English words and would punish the students severely.

So, students used electronic dictionaries more, and GT less. Or, they would occasionally use GT for one word at a time.

They knew, by the way, that the order was askew on the GT translated versions. It was obvious that the teacher was mad at something, and it wasn't the words. They were also aware that some phones had apps that acted like GT; they did whole sentences, and it frequently came out wrong. These apps weren't that popular. You had to pay for them, and nobody had extra money for something of dubious value.

At the higher levels, students who had a good grasp of English sentence order could use GT more successfully. Given a sentence, its word-for-word translations would give you new ideas, new vocabulary, that you hadn't thought of using. Fluency is, after all, having more choices. The machine would give you more choices, by giving you new words, but you still had to use your skill to arrange them right. If you could do that, you could use GT to its fullest benefit.


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