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MFL and Google Translate

Discussion in 'Modern foreign languages' started by salsera, Nov 4, 2011.

  1. salsera

    salsera New commenter

    It's returned and they are told to do it again.
    Not acceptable, and in spite of us saying don't do it - we can tell - they still do.....
  2. Right now it's not too difficult to spot that Google Translate has been used to produce a text in a foreign language, but a few years ago Google began using a different translation engine. Now Google Translate begins by examining and comparing massive corpora of texts on the Web that have already been translated by human beings. It then looks for matches between source and target texts and uses complex statistical analysis routines to work out which translations are likely to be the most accurate. So, if a word, phrase or sentence has already been translated in the same way by many different human translators then it is easy to make a choice. As more and more corpora are added to the Web this means that Google Translate will keep improving until it reaches a point where it will be very difficult to tell that a machine has done the translation. I remember early machine translation tools translating "How are you?" into German as "Wie sind Sie?" Now Google Translate gets it right: "Wie geht es Ihnen?" You can also click on the words in the translated text to hear how they are pronounced.
    Google Translate is no longer the crude tool that it used to be. Besides using a much more sophisticated and accurate translation engine, it also offers the possibility of interaction. When the translated text appears you can hover your mouse over the text and ask Google Translate to suggest alternative renderings if you don't accept what it offers as the first choice. These may be different vocab items, different tenses, different case endings in German, etc. You can also rearrange the word order. Thus you can edit the text until you are satisfied with it – and then you can copy and paste the text into Word and edit it further using Word's foreign-language spell checkers, grammar checkers and thesauruses.
    Having said that, I am in no doubt that most students would just accept what Google Translate offers as the first choice and hope for the best. But a clever student would investigate Google Translate's new features, edit the text in Word and produce quite an acceptable translation that does not have the obvious hallmarks of being translated by machine.
    See David Bellos's article on How Google Translate works:
    The European Commission uses a similar approach to translation, using so-called Translation Memory (TM) systems. These produce a rough draft, which is then corrected by professional translators. It can speed up their output by up to 80%. I often use Google Translate in the same way - but only with languages that I know reasonably well. I know one university that trains its students to use a TM tool known as TRADOS. They can then slot more easily into jobs as professional translators when they graduate.
    I used to teach translation (German-English) and theory and critique of translation back in the 1980s/1990s. At that time my university had purchased one of the earliest commercial machine translators. It produced poor translations most of the time, but I used its output in class, asking the students to spot the mistakes and explain why it had made them – e.g. parsing “like” as a verb rather than a preposition.
    We have probably reached the point where setting translations and compositions for homework has little value. There is a blog posting by Naomi Ganin Epstein headed “If Google is translating then I’ll start revamping”, in which she suggests setting a number of different types of assignments for homework that get round the problem of students using Google Translate:
    Graham Davies
  3. Geekie

    Geekie Occasional commenter

    IMHO the quality of the translation is immaterial. The reason it's so easy to spot if a student has used an online translator is that they have run a translation of their own English. Their own English is naturally going to be considerably more sophisticated in style than the French that they can write after about 5 years of study. Plus the resulting translation contains turns of phrase and structures that the students haven't been taught and are unlikely to have worked out themselves. So, unless Google can formulate a translator that can deal with GCSE-speak......
  4. tortuman

    tortuman New commenter

    I like the link you posted Graham. This teacher knows what she is talking about, admitting that students are going to use GoogleTranslate and working her exercises in such a way that at the end of the day they still learn from it.
    And I agree with her, it's not about "doing homework", homework is just another tool to get students practicing and therefore learning more... so if they are going to use GoogleTranslate, then join the enemy and use it as a tool.
  5. henriette

    henriette New commenter

    welcome back!
  6. spsmith45

    spsmith45 New commenter

    Just to pick up one point from your long and interesting post, Graham, I don't think we have yet got to the point where it is not worth setting translation and composition. At least that is not our experience. We find that very few students resort to Google translate.
    We do warn them that they will be sanctioned if they use it and that may help a little.
    I do foresee a time when teaching writing may become more redundant though.
  7. When the calculator became common place, the teaching of Maths was not abandoned. I think from my own use of Google translate, Wordreference.com etc you need a good understanding of at least 2 languages to use them effectively.
    I can see that in the future a translation paper using electronic media is a possibility. However I don't think that we are there yet. Judging by the linguistic and IT skills of the average student I think we may be quite a long way off needing to introduce such assessment.
  8. I usually find the random use of the past historic is a bit of a give-away.
  9. musiclover1

    musiclover1 New commenter

    Really good topic, thanks for posting. I've also just returned to teaching after a long break. I haven't returned my students' work - just pointed out the pitfalls. I've probably been too soft as usual.
  10. I personally warn the students and give them a detention if they use Google Translate despite my warning. They usually try it once but quickly change their mind about using it after one detention!
    However, I encourage students to use Worderference.com. But still, it has to be used carefully as it offers lots of different suggestions. Students have to pick the appropriate one according to context. It is a bit like using a dictionary. If you are looking for a verb and do not conjugate it appropriately, it will be wrong! It takes quite long for students to understand the concept of conjugating verbs, but with good training, they get there!
  11. noemie

    noemie Occasional commenter

    vendredi, I don't know what you mean, my Y8 students all know how to use the past historic and subjunctive as a matter of course! They can all use it perfectly in their homework [​IMG]
    (or so did a parent try to argue this week)
  12. A couple more thoughts:
    1. If you set a translation text for homework, warn your students that you will already have run it through Google Translate and that if you find any examples in their work of the same phrases being used that appear in the output that Google Translate gave you then they will score zero.
    2. Picking up Geekie's point, many mistakes made by Google Translate are made because the source text is inadequate. If you write "I should of thought..." instead of "I should have thought..." Google Translate's output is wrong. But it translates "I should have thought..." correctly into German as "Ich hätte gedacht..." First, we need to teach our students to write correct English and to understand English grammar. Thinking back to my early experiences with MT, I remember a company (Perkins Engines) that used the Weidner system training its employees to write correct, unambiguous English so that the MT system could handle the texts more easily - in other words, anticipating potential errors that could be made.
    Graham Davies
  13. Another solution: do writing or translation tasks in class only. Set other less googlable types of task for homework.
    Using class time also means that they are less likely to rush it or not do it at all. It's not as if they're going anywhere.
  14. musiclover1

    musiclover1 New commenter

    When I was at school I would have hated doing writing tasks in school. I needed the peace and silence of my own home for inspiration and concentration. I think lessons are for speaking, listening and studying grammar, and perhaps for reading, and writing is best done at home.
  15. I think that's just a cluster of personal opinions Lissadler and it doesn't necessarily follow that writing is best done at home simply because you preferred it as a youngster yourself.
    The Google Translate problem is a real one and my suggestion may not be perfect but it is one possible solution. Why is reading more appropriate in class than at home then? You can have 'peace and silence' in which to do it at home and - more importantly - you cannot cheat at reading, only fail to do it.
    Regardless of personal preferences (we can't cater for them all), writing in class and reading at home seems a better model to me.
  16. backwardfinesse

    backwardfinesse New commenter

    Not too difficult to spot them, but how to discourage them before they do it? I have on my desktop a couple of bits of stuff badly (and comically) translated from Fr/Sp into English: i put this in the data projector, we have a good laugh, and the vast majority get the point: if my French will be as nonsensical as the English on the screen, it's not going to get me anywhere. I say to class that they are more intelligent than any computer: those who don't get the message probably aren't... [​IMG]
  17. I'm a year 13 student studying french(as), spanish(A2) and chinese(just for fun) as well as science a levels and i find that google translate is a very useful tool when you use it like a dictionary and check it against other sources and your own knowledge. whilst i recognise as a teacher ( i help out with my spanish teachers classes during my study periods) that you must find it frustrating that some children just can't be bothered to do the homework and just turn to google translate. i think it would be better to say that is a useful tool but not a replacement for learning stuff properly
  18. Sometimes I allow wordreference.com for writing tasks and still some of the students are stupid enough to choose Google Translate because they regard it is quicker (and they can enter clusters of text rather than just single words).
    They are falling into the classic teenager's trap of wanting to finish work as quickly as possible and fool the teacher into thinking they've done some decent work rather than actually get better at the language.
    I have reduced the rate of Google-translating among untrustworthy learners by insisting that they do writing tasks in class instead. Since they know this is what is going to happen they are less interested in cutting corners.

  19. I teach beginner German to undergraduate students, and many of them ask me about whether or not using Google Translate is allowed, to the extent that I spend some time in the first class of the semester explaining exactly why the use of it constitutes academic dishonesty...

    I don't tend to set translation tasks for homework but I do set written tasks (of course!) and one way I've found to make the use of Google translate almost impossible is to require them to use a certain number of grammatical constructions that we've learnt in class - eg, in this assignment you must answer the following questions, and also use at least 3 stem-vowel changing verbs, at least two accusative prepositions etc. That seems to work fairly well!
  20. Over the last few years, I have compiled a list of very funny mistakes that kids have made when using Google translator and I show them to each class at the beginning of the year. They normally don't attempt to use it after that.

    My funniest one was when a Yr10 kid (it was the first month I was teaching him) did an entire German presentation using Google translator. Guess how I found out? He wrote it in Dutch. I'm not even making this up, sadly...

    Having said that, I use it all the time as I am myself learning Russian, but it requires a great deal of grammar knowledge to handle it properly, more than any average KS3 or KS4 kid has.

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