Online Voice Recognition and Translation: What kind of media literacy skillset can we or should we provide to the students?

With all the online tools and tablet apps available, what kind of activity or assignments can we or should we do to inform students the better and effective way of using these tools?

online010With the rise of web 2.0 and growing market of smartphone and tablet industries, there have been varies of online tools and mobile apps developed for the last 5 years or so.  Compared to the traditional applications for desktop or laptop computer, mobile apps and tools are cheaper and lighter with very specific functions.  In the field of foreign language instructions, there have been many online tools and apps published for translation and voice recognition.  Those tools have been quite multilingual nowadays and they keep adding the number of languages to be supported.

Some apps would provide users real-time word the translation using the camera on mobile device.  (WordlensCamDictionary)  Others would provide the combination of voice recognition and multilingual translation. (Voice Translator, Universal Translator)

online004When we have the tools like this, the students will take advantage of them whether instructors like them or not.  Also, simply saying “It doesn’t work” or “Do not use it!” would not prevent them from using these tools.  So the question is ‘what do we do?’.  Do we dismiss these tools and believe that they don’t exist?  I believe we have to provide them something.  For example, we need to provide a better alternative tool available if one product performs really poorly.  We should also mention which aspect of the tool specifically is not functioning well.  We need to let them know what kind of skills the users need to have to make the tools more valuable.  I feel this kind of media literacy is something that students in your class need to improve as they go through the series of language classes as a part of linguistic strategy and technology skills.

Google Translator’ allows you to translate between many languages and provide translation result  in audio as well as text.  I see students using this or similar product when they are doing assignments.   I wanted to explore a little bit more on how it works and investigate which aspect of translation will cause students troubles when they use, unless they have enough language proficiency and linguistic skills to detect the errors.  The example is to translate from English to Japanese.


After I explore the translation of phrases and sentences, I find that one word or simple sentences can be translated in decent way, yet with sometimes particle mistakes.  Proper nouns from English to Japanese may be fairly good, which can be used by students to see the writing (because most foreign proper nouns can be written with Katakana characters in Japanese).

However, even with the simple sentences, sometimes the translation becomes completely strange ‘word-by-word’ translation.  It was more problematic to translate more complicated sentences, especially using the transitive verb with direct and indirect objects.  You have to type exact phrases to get the best translation if it is the idiomatic expression.  Also using the causative, having the subjunctive, and using conditional sentences cause errors in the translation, specifically tense agreement or particle errors.

online002So what kind of activities or assignments may be good for students to understand these kinds of issues in translation apps?  Should we let them explore the tool just like I did with Google Translator?  Or should we have other activities to show how and when the online tools can be beneficial?  With these online tools, students sometimes know more about it than instructors or language lab manager.  It may be good idea to ask students show and tell about the online tools and how they use as well as when it worked and when it didn’t.

I still use the online dictionary tools when I write an article or paper.  I like this website because I can receive so many way of using one word in varieties of contexts. ( I can guess and figure out which word to use for similar context.  A Spanish instructor introduced me another website which she recommended to her students to use.  It also has the context.  (  When I need to embellish the paper, then I may use online Thesaurus in both languages – my native language and the target language.


PS:  As I was writing this article, I remembered an assignment when I was in a graduate school.  The assignment was to analyze the limit of voice recognition system, specifically the automated flight-ticket reservation system using the voice recognition.  I remember the system couldn’t recognize me saying ‘the ticket from Dulles Airport at Washington DC’ and kept booking the airplane ticket from Dallas airport at Texas.  I learned the limit of voice recognition for foreigners as well as what kind of information I need to prepare when I book the airplane ticket with automated machine or actual person on the other side.  It was good way to learn voice recognition as well as meta-cognitive knowledge of language learning. ;-)

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