teaching professional people english
Any teacher or trainer ought to be working towards their own obsolescence – that’s to say, we should be equipping students to succeed without us. There have never been so many tools available with so many opportunities to be tripped up by them, and my students want to know how to select their tools and how to apply them. So…. what do we tell them? Everyone reading this will have their own opinions, so feel free to comment and share.
3 types of search
Generally I think we have three types of situation which smart/online/app/… tools can help with. There are tools to assist with each, but no tool can really make up for absolute ignorance – and non-native speakers should learn to trust their instincts. The worst types of mistake are often the words which seem ‘suspicious’ when you try to use them. (I can’t be the only person to have delighted in Monty Python’s ‘dictionary’ sketch..)
Services to help with the odd general word are legion. I like ‘google translate’, the french swear by ‘reverso’. What I do say is that it pays not to depend on them too much, and to try to check words singly.
Whatever the temptation to opt for the easiest possible variant, try to encourage your students to have enough self confidence to decline offerings such as ‘l’Anglais facile’ which are written by non-native speakers, and are highly likely to repeat common errors which students can make unaided.
(I’m not going to insult your intelligence by providing links to these general sites. If you really truly never cheat, use a search engine.)
Let me tell you a story… I have a group of students who work in lift maintenance. For this reason, I’ve had to learn about the bits and pieces which go into them. In French there is a thingy on a lift called a ‘parachute’. If you ask Google or the average dictionary, they will tell you that this translates as …. a parachute. Easy, right? Wrong. Allow your mind to dwell on that image for just a moment. Delicious. Of course, the real term is ‘safety catch device’ – and the reason I know this is that I was told many years ago about a lifesaver: ‘Le Grand Dictionnaire Terminologique’ which is edited and published by the government of Quebec.
Language services portal - press here
Dictionary directly – press here
You should only ask for a single word – say you want to translate ‘machine housing’, type ‘housing’ into the search window, and then scroll down the categories which are suggested, until you find ‘mechanical’ or whatever seems closest. Click on that, and see what it suggests. I know that I appreciate not having to feel responsible for all vocabulary in the classroom, and in spite of what might be ideal, dictionaries are not always available, evan in higher education contexts (and frankly, I wouldn’t even try to cart my dictionary collection around with me).
The disadvatage is, of course, that if your native tongue is neither English or French, you’re up a bit of a gum tree..
Synonyms and the’ best possible’ word
The downside of translation tools, apart from the fact that ease of use tends to foster dependance, is that they, well, translate. Most of us spend valuable classroom hours nudging people away from translation towards independant thought and language generation. To this end, I try to encourage my students to use English-only services. My personal favourite is ‘Visuwords’ which you can visit here. Visuwords is artistically pleasing, and will do more to enable users to get a feel for the best use of a word than any translation-based approach. The interface will display synonyms, opposites, related terms… and very often this will be more help to comprehension than a dictionary.
The internet is a big place, and I don’t know the half of what goes on there. What other tools do you use with your students? Please share…
You might also like to check out the discussion thread on this very subject among teachers on edutopia – here