Can Google Translate help you learn a second language?

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Analysis: translation tools can be used by teachers and tutors as an ally in the language learning process

At Sophia Coppola Lost in translation, Bob Harris is a movie star in Tokyo recruited to promote Japanese whiskey Suntory. During the whiskey marketing campaign, Bob (played by Bill Murray) feels lost when he realizes that the interpreter who helps him communicate with the Japanese director has not accurately translated what he said in English.

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Lost In Translation Trailer

In today’s increasingly globalized and connected world, communication situations like this have become more frequent than in previous generations. But in the age of artificial intelligence, people in such situations can rely on smart systems like free online translation tools rather than relying only on interpreters.

Translation technologies were designed to help us communicate in a language we don’t speak or understand, breaking down language barriers. Although there are still hurdles to overcome with this technology, the translation tools are improving with each new release. The user experience has also improved and therefore they have become very popular and much more widespread.

Our web browsers and social media platforms house translation tools which can also be easily downloaded as apps on our phones. Translating a social media post, website, text messages, speech, or images like a restaurant menu written in a foreign language is just a click away. The ubiquity of online translators combined with ease of access has resulted in an increase in the number of users, especially in the past five years.

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From google, how Google Translate creates your translations

There are even language learners among these users. Although such translators are often not recommended as a second language learning support tool, language teachers have been challenged by the popularization and emergence of these tools, which are used by students. to complete coursework.

Since these systems are available in the form of mobile applications, they facilitate the access of language students as a communication tool. If English speakers who are learning Spanish want to speak Spanish, but don’t know how to precisely structure a sentence or don’t know a word in Spanish, they can quickly translate the sentence or word using the app on their mobile device and so be more confident when speaking.

However, many language teachers believe that translation tools can weaken students’ ability to communicate independently in a second language. Following criticism of the use of translation tools during the language learning process, researchers at the DCU School of Computing examined if using something like Google Translate could lead to erroneous learning. They also examined whether the use of these tools could have a positive impact on learning a second language, in particular learning to produce sentences in a second language.

People are not only influenced by the linguistic behavior of others, but also by the linguistic behavior of the computer systems they trust.

The researchers recruited native speakers of Brazilian Portuguese who were learning English in Ireland, at different skill levels. The idea was to analyze the linguistic behavior of the participants in English before and after using the Google Translate app on their own mobile device.

The researchers found that participants were more likely to speak in English using the sentence structure read in the translated output after translating sentences from Portuguese to English using the translator app. It was even if it was a more unfamiliar structure to them than an alternate structure that resembled the word order of their native language. For example, it is easier for Portuguese speakers to say “The the office table was broken ” than “Office the table was broken “ because the word order of the latter does not exist in Portuguese, which makes this structure difficult for Brazilian students.

After participants read the sentences translated on the app in the most difficult structure, they adapted their language behavior to reflect the output of Google Translate and used the more difficult structure of the speech. Moreover, the experiment also showed that this effect was long lasting: the same participants still produced the difficult sentence structures in English 24 hours after the experiment.

What do these results show us? First, people are not only influenced by the linguistic behavior of others, but also by the linguistic behavior of the computer systems they trust. Second, translation tools like Google Translate not only minimize language barriers, but they can also be used by language teachers and tutors as an ally in the language learning process rather than an enemy. This is especially the case when learning difficult sentence structures in a second language.


The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ



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