About this paper

Appears in:
Pages: 6410-6414
Publication year: 2011
ISBN: 978-84-614-7423-3
ISSN: 2340-1079

Conference name: 5th International Technology, Education and Development Conference
Dates: 7-9 March, 2011
Location: Valencia, Spain

“YO LATA MOSCA ESPALDA” : STUDENT COMPOSITIONS AND ONLINE TRANSLATORS

R. Treece

University of Minnesota (UNITED STATES)
Foreign-language teachers have been assigning compositions for decades as a means of helping students solidify their mastery of lexicon and grammar. It is well established in the theoretical literature that skill at writing is acquired through practice. Since the development of online translators, we have encountered the occasional student who would try to pass off an automated translation as an original composition in the target language. Because of absurdities such as the rendering of “I can fly back” in the title of this presentation, such initiatives backfired for the most part.
But more recently, the quality of the output of online translators has been improving, to the point that currently it is sometimes hard to distinguish any flaws found in such texts from the kinds of errors typically produced by actual students, whose linguistic insights are frequently limited.
It is obvious that a student who submits a composition written entirely in English and submitted to an online translator in its entirety has gained nothing in terms of skill in using the target language, nor proven anything in that regard. So what can we do as instructors in the face of this new situation?

Various approaches come to mind, organized here according to the personality of their putative proponents:

• "El Idealismo honorable de Don Quijote"
If we simply tell students that online translators are forbidden, then they will eschew them. Legalists can make students sign a statement at the end of each assignment attesting that it was produced without the help of online translation tools.

• "La Rigidez provincial de Antonia"
Students will no longer be allowed to leave the classroom to do compositions. If we want to allow (or require) spell-check, or even online dictionaries, then we can set up computer labs for that purpose where access to Google Translate, etc. has been technologically blocked.

• "El Libertinaje pragmático de Aldonza"
There is no point in fighting against the tide of technology. Consider how mathematics teachers fulminated against calculators before adopting them as part of their curriculum. Now mathematics courses require calculators and explicitly teach their effective use. And how recently were we debating whether it was ethical for a student to spell-check a composition? Now we require that they be spell-checked! Would it not be wiser to incorporate instruction on the use of these technologies into our courses, so that our students would learn to manipulate them in a sophisticated manner and avoid monstrosities like “lata mosca espalda”? In any case, we will be able to assess the true skill level of students in written exams, where computer-use is not a factor, and through speaking tests, which are taken without technological support.

• "El Equilibrio simpático de Sancho Panza"
And what about those of us who do not want to be feckless heroes or book-burners or libertines? Perhaps the solution is to redefine the task itself, to create assignments that achieve the same pedagogical purpose without permitting wholesale recourse to online translators, but which recognize their existence and even their potential value for our students in their encounters with the target language in the future.
@InProceedings{TREECE2011YO,
author = {Treece, R.},
title = {“YO LATA MOSCA ESPALDA” : STUDENT COMPOSITIONS AND ONLINE TRANSLATORS},
series = {5th International Technology, Education and Development Conference},
booktitle = {INTED2011 Proceedings},
isbn = {978-84-614-7423-3},
issn = {2340-1079},
publisher = {IATED},
location = {Valencia, Spain},
month = {7-9 March, 2011},
year = {2011},
pages = {6410-6414}}
TY - CONF
AU - R. Treece
TI - “YO LATA MOSCA ESPALDA” : STUDENT COMPOSITIONS AND ONLINE TRANSLATORS
SN - 978-84-614-7423-3/2340-1079
PY - 2011
Y1 - 7-9 March, 2011
CI - Valencia, Spain
JO - 5th International Technology, Education and Development Conference
JA - INTED2011 Proceedings
SP - 6410
EP - 6414
ER -
R. Treece (2011) “YO LATA MOSCA ESPALDA” : STUDENT COMPOSITIONS AND ONLINE TRANSLATORS, INTED2011 Proceedings, pp. 6410-6414.
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