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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Computers and Language Instruction

I've seen some school (foreign) language courses that warn students that any use of machine translation will result in an 'F' for the assignment on which it was used. This is the wrong way to respond to the rise of Google translate and such. The right way is to teach kids how to use these tools properly. They can be a great aid to language learning: for instance, in Italy, I frequently got a computer translation for what I wanted to ask a clerk, thought about whether it was right, and then tried it out. This gave me a lot of practice I wouldn't have had otherwise. But what's crucial is to think about the translation the machine offers: sometimes they are pretty terrible, as evidence by all the bad Chinglish signs people post pictures of. You have to have an idea of what the sentence ought to come out like, and be using the translator to check your intuition and cough up a word or two you don't know. It doesn't think; you have to do that part.

10 comments:

  1. I've seen some chess clubs that warn members that any secret use of a computer chess program will get them expelled. This is the wrong way to respond to the rise of Deep Blue and such. The right way is to teach chess enthusiasts how to use these programs properly. They can be a great aid to chess skill enhancement: for instance, in a tournament, I frequently got a chess-move output, thought about whether it was good, and then tried it out. This gave me a lot of practice I wouldn't have had otherwise. But what's crucial is to think about the move the machine offers: sometimes they are pretty terrible, as evidenced by all the pathological situations they choke on. You have to have an idea of what good and bad moves would look like, and be using the computer to check your intuition and cough up a move you might have missed.

    Chess programs don't think; you have to do that part to win.

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    1. I'm getting really good at predicting my readers: I said to myself, "Silas won't be able to resist this one: he's going to make the exact same stupid-ass post he makes every time I go near this subject."

      Are you sure *you're* not just artificially intelligent, Silas?

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    2. Humor me though: what's my error?

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  2. Look at me, I totally called it that computers would never get translation right, just like I called it on chess!

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    1. Amazing Silas. You repeatedly just make up things not remotely like anything I have ever said, and then get upset when I won't defend these made-up claims! No, I can't afford to waste my time with such idiocy.

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  3. Where did anyone suggest computers would never get translation right? I thought the actual claim was that (a) they don't get it right now, and yet (b) they can still be useful learning tools.

    That may be right or it may be wrong, but it doesn't really have anything to do with whether someone will eventually produce a killer translation algorithm. (Not that that isn't an interesting topic in its own right.)

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    1. Thanks Huff! That's what *I* thought I was saying!

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    2. I could have sworn you said "computers don't think", where "think" means "solve a problem believed to be intractable to all but humans"...

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    3. Silas, I could have sworn you said "Look at me," where "Look at me" means "I enjoy humping pigs."

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