Cutting Corners To Learn

by Vicky Florian ‘14

Foreign language teachers see the use of online translators as cutting corners, leading to insufficient comprehension of the language. Students, on the other hand, see translators as a modern form of the dictionary, but a more convenient alternative. The question remains, whether there is any common ground between these two views.

Teachers are not entirely opposed to the internet being used as a resource by students, but they sometimes disapprove of the sites students favor the most. Teachers in the Spanish department recommend Word Reference as an online alternative because “other translators, like Google, are not acceptable to use. [The student] does not know where the definitions are coming from,” said Spanish teacher Xaviera Gutierrez. The sources of Google translator are not documented, fueling teachers to dislike them.  

The primary reason teachers forbid translators is they are unreliable and are not always correct. In some instances they give a literal translation of a foreign phrase into English. When this occurs, the entire meaning of the phrase or sentence can become misinterpreted. Also, when a student uses a translator for an entire sentence, rather than a single definition, the translated sentence is often inaccurate.

In a Warrior survey say less than 20% of students do not use Google translate at least once in a semester, while more than 60% of the respondents said they used the application 4 or more times in a semester. Students use translators because of the convenience. Most students think that online translators, in addition to Word Reference, should not be considered cheating. “[Using an online translator] is basically the same as looking up a vocabulary word in a normal dictionary; it’s just quicker,” said freshman Katie Mercogliano.

Due to frequent errors and relative ease, online translator use correlates with a decrease in the students’ comprehension of the language. “The thought process that goes into writing in a foreign language is lost when a translator is used,” said Gutierrez. Some students use translators to do the work for them, rather than attempting to form sentences from their own knowledge.         

It many cases it is obvious to teachers when a student translates an entire sentence or paragraph at a time. The translation is often incomprehensible and does not follow the structure taught in class. When a student is caught using unapproved outside help, many teachers require he redo the assignment; however, a penalty is not always issued.

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