In our graduate class – LTMS600 – we read/discussed an interesting article on things that are being “killed” by the Internet. It was interesting to see how our opinions varied about what was a tragic loss and what was an improvement in life. The two items that I think are the greatest tragedy are the loss of language’s beauty and loss of geographical perspective.
The Internet has a variety of online translators – Google, babblefish, WorldLingo, FreeTranslation, Ask, etc. The article pointed out that the general message is the same, but it loses much of the beauty and rhythm when translated. I do an activity with my 7th graders to show them why they should not use an online translator (besides the fact it counts as plagiarism for passing someone else’s work/a computer’s work off as your own). They suggest sentences which turns into a mini short story. As a class, we put it through multiple translators, switching the languages we are translating to and from. The last translation is back to English so they can see all the mistakes.
This is the example from last year’s class:
There once was a frog. He lived in a bog. He was wearing a purple shirt with pink and yellow polka dots. He’s a plumber. He’s really fat with a small head. He devoured flies.
The story was translated from
English, to German, to Russian, to French, to Spanish, and back to English.
This shows you what happens when you try to use an online translator for more than a short word or phrase: a comedy of errors.
This is the translation for the class created story:
There was once a frog. He was living in the marsh. He was taking the shirt purple with the pink and yellow spot. He is the tinsmith. It is really a grease for a small head. He was absorbing the flight.
With mistakes that obvious, of course a language teacher will recognize that an online translator was used.
The other item that I think is a shame to lose in a loss of geographical perspective. Some people think that maps and globes are a waste of money (see picture below). However, some of the mystery and interest in the world is lost if students do not have a physical globe to spin around (especially if the map is 3D with mountains). My sister and I used to spend hours spinning the globe and trying to find the strangest sounding countries/cities/etc. I still can at least give you the continent, and often more specific location, for any country. Many of my students after studying North America/South America still struggle to tell you the location of the studied countries. Only using Google Maps might give you the chance to zoom in and link to photos on Flickr and articles in Wikipedia … however, it often fails to link the learning to the student’s lives. In a local sense, many students do not know about places around them. There is tunnel vision – only as big as a GPS screen. If something is beyond the border of the GPS screen, it does not exist in their minds. I think this was demonstrated in the Learning is Messy blog post. When he surveyed his classroom, many of his students did not know where they lived or about their state. Some of that is because of their background, but some of that is the fault of society and the reliance on GPS. Personally, I am glad that I was raised before the era of GPS. I have a good sense of direction – and can rationally find my destinations. There are certain places that I would not want to be reliant on a GPS – like New York City. Pulling out a GPS and admitting you are lost is almost like holding up a target screaming lost tourist.