Saturday, July 25, 2009

Activities for language students

A few months ago I had written about the idea of involving language teachers in the project. Before I illustrate a few ideas of how things can work, I'd like to answer to a question that you may ask yourself (if you are a language teacher) : why should I participate?

It's simple : Tatoeba can become a very useful resource... if only it had more data. The only way to gather the necessary data is to have a community working on it. You can be part of this community.
The data can be used for people who simply need to translate something, but also for programmers who would like to code language learning applications, and as well for researchers working on problematics related to language processing.
I'd also like to mention here that Tatoeba is quite an ambitious project, and what's more, a non-profit one. We really need as much help as possible.

Now, if you're a bit convinced, what can you do to help...

Translating any sentences

The most basic assignment would be to ask each student to translate a certain number of sentences every week. Since there are a lot more English and Japanese sentences, these sentences would usually be the "source" sentences. So if you're a French teacher in Japan, you would get your students to translate Japanese sentences into French. If you're an English teacher in France, you would get your students to translate English sentences into French. And so on. I'm focusing on French because it is my goal to translate all the English/Japanese sentences into French. But you could as well be an English teacher in Spain, and ask your students to translate English sentences into Spanish.

The only work you would have to do as a teacher is to check that everyone has contributed the amount of sentences you've required them to translate. The result is, even if you only have 20 students, and they each translated only 10 sentences each week for 10 weeks, that would still be 2000 additional sentences in the end.

However this type of activity may not be very connected to the things you are teaching during your classes. It only has the advantage that it will help increase quickly the amount data.

Translating sentences with specific words

Instead of translating just any sentence, you could ask your students to translate sentences with specific words in it. These words would of course be part of the vocabulary that you would like your students to learn.

This activity would be more useful in an academic context because the data can be used for studying. Students can retrieve the sentences they have translated, or that their peers have translated, in order to review vocabulary before a test.

Adding sentences with new vocabulary

What if there are no sentences with the vocabulary you'd like your students to learn? You can always ask them to find a sentence somewhere on the Web, add it in Tatoeba, and translate it.

Teaming up with another teacher

The problem with asking students to translate sentences, is that they are likely to make mistakes when they don't translate into their mother tongue. Ideally, when a student translates into his learning language, a native speaker should check that the translation actually means something.

I think the best way to do this is to team up with another teacher. In you were an English teacher in France, you would team up with a French teacher in the U.K. for instance. Your students would be checking French translations added by their English partners, and the British students would be checking the English translations added by your students. In the process they can help each other by explaining why it is wrong and what would be better (considering the students have enough of a decent level in their learning language so they can communicate with each other).

So these are only a few ideas, and of course we could always come up with more sophisticated things.

Anyway, if by any chance you are a language teacher and happen to be reading this, contact me!