Google Translate Nightmares

I’ve taught ESL writing classes for nearly 13 years now.  Overall, I really enjoy teaching these courses.  It is great to be able to concretely witness student improvement from assignment to assignment.  The amazing transformations evident in some end-of-semester portfolios make teaching writing so much more satisfying than “four skills” classes or conversation classes, particularly at higher levels of proficiency.  However, there is one practice that drives me nuts, students submitting Google Translate translated papers.

Please, don’t get me wrong, I don’t blame them for using it.  I used a translation software way back in the dark ages for my Italian classes.  I actually think this can be great (wait on the “how/why”).

I can spot a Google translated passage in about 10 seconds.  It’s a little eery, but Google actually has a “voice”.  It’s a signature voice that, while similar to non-native Engish speaker interlanguage (particularly with Korean learners), is rather easy to identify.  I won’t even comment on these papers outside of “rewrite….but actually write it yourself this time.”

So, why do I hate these?  Those who do it are lazy.  Not because they used Google Translate, but because they didn’t take the valuable second step.  They didn’t edit it.  Translating software can save people a lot of time, and that’s important to all of us.  However, you are missing out an a learning opportunity if you don’t take a look at the translation and edit it for grammar and vocabulary (particularly in regard to context appropriate vocab).  It’s important for learners to make sure that the final piece is written in their voice, not Google’s.

So, I finally decided to get my revenge.  It was time for students to see what I see all too frequently.  I took paragraphs from multiple news stories in an English language Korean newspaper and translated them using Google Translate into Korean (see document below).  I then gave them to groups of students and had them translate.  They are also instructed to note comment problems/errors with the translations (Korean version), and I asked that they think of strategies for correcting/improving the translations after the fact.

I’m still working out the best approach for this activity, but I was generally happy with the first implementation (2 classes).  The students seemed to happily translate the passages, but carrying the activity past this point seemed to drag a little.  I fully intend to work it back into future classes though, when appropriate.  Any suggestions for next time?

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