Language teachers can feel threatened by language applications. But if we overcome our insecurity that a language app is going to somehow render us obsolete, it’s possible to find a new teaching assistant free of charge. Translation apps can become your pedagogically, capturing the imagination of students and sparking their creativity. And maybe, along the way, saving you some work. We’ll consider five exercises, in and out of the classroom, that you can use to make your lesson more … appetizing.
Teachers don’t need to compete with translation services
Let’s look at some creative ways that you can use translation apps to complement your lessons and enhance the learning experiences of your students, via classroom games. We’ll do so with a top translation app: Google Translate, a frequent winner in international academic competitions.
A Machine Translation Primer
Machine translation has come a long way in the last decades, thanks to a conceptual breakthrough in Artificial Intelligence last decade: a technique known as neural networks. Without getting side-tracked into esoteric realms of computer science, suffice to say that AI-driven neural translation considers the entire text to be translated. Then, based on prior training, it maps the semantic and grammatical relationships among all words before starting to translate.
Translation games that add fun and flavor
1. Translation Telephone
Remember the kids’ game where kids sit in a circle and whisper a sentence to each other till the whispered sentence comes full circle and is announced out loud? Invariably there’s little relation between the sentence originally whispered and the one spoken aloud. The same happens when translating between several languages and back again. How to do it? Speak or type a moderate complex sentence or two in English, then into the language that you’re teaching, into one more language of your choice and then back to English. (It’s easy to do this by toggling the arrow keys to reverse the direction of the translation and then picking a new language.) After a few rounds, do you recognize it?
2. Word Salad
Print out a complex menu in a foreign language. Students use their translation app to order food, while one student serves as waiter who writes down the order and then communicates it to the “chef,” who then reads it back to the class and stands corrected! Educational value: how expressions get lost in translation, the power of ambiguity.
3. Blind Language Bluff
This is a variation on the party game where one person puts a word or phrase on their forehead and then needs to guess what is written. Here we do it with an expression in the language being learned. All questions and answers need to be in that language! Students get to use their app both to ask questions and to make guesses.
4. Linguistic Charades
Just like the party game, one student think of a word, and the others need to guess it? The one with the hidden word, can give clues but not say it. App use allowed. Educational value: Expanding vocabulary, learning problem-solving in a new language.
5. Translation Autocorrect
Assign 5-10 paragraphs in English to translate. Instruct students to translate without help, translate using the app, then copy their translation into the app and translate back to English. Challenge them to try an improve on the app translation.
Educational value: Choose paragraphs where the app translation is flawed. This raises students’ awareness that even AI software is flawed and that they can best a machine! Better yet: try it yourself and see how well you do!
Meta description: Language teachers can use Google Translate to enhance classroom experiences and homework assignments with pleasant games and exercises.