In her blood by Beth Rankin, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  Beth Rankin 

Performances and cultural events are only some of the ways teachers are advocating for proficiency-based language methods.

Love was in the air at Thursday’s Valentine’s #langchat, but not the romantic kind. Participants at the night’s chat seemed to be focused on finding ways to love their colleagues and administration more in order to help their students have access to proficiency-based language programs.

Although solutions and ideas were shared about how teachers can advocate for their programs, the bulk of the night’s conversation was geared towards how to work with students, peers and community leaders to create more proficient classrooms.

Engaging Students in Proficiency-Based Methods

@tmsaue1 started the night off with this gem: “Advocacy starts in the classroom. No better way to advocate for WL then having highly proficient students.” This opened a huge discussion on how to encourage students to recognize their proficiency and advocate for the program and teachers that help them succeed. @CoLeeSensei said, “Sometimes I overlook the role my students play in promoting – they love to tell parents/admin about the value of what they are learning!”

Setting Realistic Expectations

Some teachers mentioned the general barriers to complete success with relying wholly on students to advocate for proficiency-based language, mainly that they often don’t know their own abilities. @fravan said, “They are so insecure in there ability. [I] love the #actfl proficiency guidelines. Gives them realistic idea of what they should be able to do.”

Others agreed that helping students set realistic goals for proficiency is a great place to start, and gave specific examples of how to help students set appropriate goals and see their progress.

  • @tmsaue1 said, “Let’s replace the family tree with posters that say what an Intermediate CAN DO and the names of students who are intermediates.” @fravan agreed. “It is a very powerful moment when students have proof of their growth in the lang. We have to build them up.”
  • @trescolumnae said, “I love the ACTFL proficiency document because it SHOWS proficiency levels. Showing beats describing every time.”
  • @lclarcq said, “If we clearly state student goals and then show how student work reflects, it speaks volumes.”
  • @CoLeeSensei said, “I tell my students that world language studies show and gives real-life communication skills you can put on an application.”
  • @tmsaue1 shared his idea: “Our students explain proficiency in their words on day 1. Put them on posters around the room. (could be shared with admin.)”

Making Room for Student Success

@tmsaue1 brought up a point about getting students excited about learning languages as a way to advocate for better proficiency-based language programs. She said, “I think that’s our number one job as #wlteach. Get kids to WANT to learn a language. WANT to be an intermediate.”

One way teachers talked about getting kids excited was to highlight their successes. But some teachers felt at a loss for implementing this into their programs. @fravan summed up perfectly: “Success is the best way to win people over. How do I showcase success stories?”

From creating social events to presenting language programs around schools, the #langchat participants had some great ideas on how to show students, parents and administration that proficiency-based language studies are making their students successful.

  • @tmsaue1 encouraged participants to “showcase students using languages for real purposes in the school/local community.” He also said, “Many schools put up posters of students based on performance on state test. [I] would love to see WL Proficiency Posters in schools.”
  • @lclarcq agreed, stating, “Honoring people goes a long way. We honor, we share. When we honor our students’ work it isn’t self-serving or self-promoting.”
  • @pamwesely shared a “silly dream” of hers to present a proficiency bee at her school. Students would be given questions in a performance setting and would have to respond appropriately. Viewers would see simultaneous translations in English and the target language. It might also be able to include online chats about the contestants’ language accuracy.
  • @tmsaue1 suggested teachers, “Talk to your guidance counselors to figure out how external assessments (STAMP, AAPPL, AP) can be included on transcripts.”
  • @senoralopez introduced the idea of making proficiency levels more student-friendly. “Perhaps making student friendly proficiency levels be renaming intermediate level would make them realize their achievement.”
  • @AudreyMisiano said, “Another great way to advocate is how #aimlang does it. The kids learn a play and perform for their school/families/etc. entirely in TL.”

Introducing Proficiency-Based Language Methods to Parents and Administration

The discussion turned towards how to best involve parents and administration in creating solid and proficient language students. It was clear from #langchatters that they felt the pressure of getting parents and administration on board with changes towards more proficiency-based language learning.

Some have had success engaging parents in their language programs as a way to advocate for a more proficiency-based language classroom. @MartinaBex said, “My admin is supportive of me because there is a waitlist for my classes. Happy kids = happy parents = happy admin wants to expand program.”

This sparked conversation about how to encourage administrators away from traditional models for assessing language programs. @cadamsf1 asked a question: “What if what we value is not what the district values? I know how to get around it but many flounder at that point.” @mweelin also laments, “At my school we are just now starting to look at ACTFL proficiency levels, and change is hard. We’re behind the times.”

Some of the best ideas for involving parents and administration were:

1. Communicate with parents and admin. While some teachers like @pamwesely think it might be “useless to try to describe proficiency to non-specialists,” others believe that attempting to engage parents and admins is an important step forward. @cforchini said, “At least you are starting the conversation! That’s the hardest part.”

2. Educate them about proficiency. @CalicoTeach said, “Parents/Admin want to know what kids “can do” with lang.” She suggested using the “I can” statements from LinguaFolio to help this group of non-specialists learn to identify proficiency in their students.

3. Encourage observation and outside participation. @CoLeeSensei suggested inviting viewers to see proficiency-based language classrooms in action. She encouraged teachers to “show off their students” by “inviting in admin and colleagues to see purposeful language in action?” @fravan agreed: “Parents were pleased/impressed with seeing their students on video at open house.” @darcypippins also suggested introducing parents to new teaching methods through a parent-involved TPRS activity. She said, “Do a TPRS demo during open house every 30 minutes for parents to participate in. It’s not how they learned.”

4. Impress them with relevant data points. @cadamsf1 thinks “showcasing students with comprehensive national exams may help.” @CoLeeSensei said, “On report cards, I often include what communicative activities Ss have engaged in. It’s a way to report to parents what students can do!”

5. Create buzz around your world language program. Several teachers talked about how they are working hard to create feeder programs within the community that emphasize proficiency-based language and communication. @darcypippins explained, “I go to the local elementary twice a week to do TPR and TPRS with the kids. Parents, teachers, and admin love it!”

Motivating Other Teachers Towards Proficiency-Based Language Teaching

The most discussed concept of the night, however, was the apparent need to work with colleagues and pre-service teachers to create an atmosphere that is open to change.

Several teachers expressed concern with their own colleagues as the largest roadblocks to proficiency-based language teaching. @fravan said, “Meeting a lot of resistance from the worksheet crowd at my school.” Other teachers agreed that new strategies for language learning can often be a hard sell for everyone. @CoLeeSensei responded, “You raise a great point – we may be advocating in our dept. as well as our school!”

A House Divided….

This brought up an issue that many participants seemed familiar with: infighting amongst the language department. @tmsaue1 said, “I’m very concerned (disturbed) by how often I see WL department infighting over language enrollments.” @lclarcq responded, “Me too. Does not help anyone. But rampant in the profession. We must model honoring colleagues.”

Instead of fighting over who has the “best” language in the school or district, participants agreed that language teachers should be working to support each other in the difficult task of changing the way that language is taught, regardless of specialty. A number of constructive tips were given to help ease teachers into more proficiency-based language teaching habits.

  • @crwmsteach said, “Exchange proficiency ideas techniques respectfully w/ colleagues during ‘share’ meetings.”
  • @lclarcq said, “The most important step is first making sure that department sees and treats each other as people first, teachers second. Without personal connection, it is too easy to be competitors rather than colleagues.”
  • @pamwesely encouraged building language programs generally, not specifically one or two languages. She said, “We need to worry about making the pie bigger, not focusing on dividing the pie.”
  • @lclarcq said, “Sharing w/ a teacher you trust is very helpful. It does not need to be someone in same building.”
  • Create a standardized grading procedure for assessing proficiency. @mweelin suggest to have a standard grading throughout the school where each proficiency level equals a certain percentage on assessments. @trescolumnae chimed in, “Then “all” you have to do is agree: if Novice Mid is goal and S demonstrates Novice Mid, that’s a grade of X%.”

Teaching Teachers

A large number of participants discussed the need for professional development towards proficiency teaching behaviors, specifically in the form of video. @pamweselyI wailed about the “inaccessibility of the classrooms of successful teachers to others (preservice, inservice),” and was met with rousing agreement from the other participants. @CalicoTeach responded emphatically, “I think watching excellent teachers is one of the most powerful tools to gaining that same level of excellence.”

Many participants agreed that language teaching videos, like the Annenberg Language Teaching series are a great way to watch and learn from varying (but successful) styles of teaching. Others responded that poor teaching can also be a great learning tool. @tmsaue1 expressed this point of view: “I wouldn’t mind seeing failed approaches with teachers reflecting on why something didn’t work.” @DonaKimberly agreed, stating, “Seeing what NOT to do can be as powerful as what TO do.”

Proficiency-Based Language Assessments

Another key component for strong, proficiency-based language teaching and learning is appropriate assessments. @tmsaue1 said, “We communicate a lot through grading (to students, parents, admin, more), so it should be aligned with what we value.” This idea was supported by many teachers like @pamwesely and @trescolumnae, who discussed gearing assessments towards a tiered mastery system like in fine arts courses.

Even though the concept was accepted by most at the chat, the implementation was still confusing for others. @mweelin said, “My teachers are freaking out about how to convert a proficiency level to a grade. It’s a shift in thinking for us.” To help release some of the inherent stress of change, some participants encouraged the use of transitional assessment guides such as the LinguaFolio levels or I Can statements from ACTFL.

Creative Solutions for Advocating Proficiency-Based Learning

Although each group of people that #langchat teachers encounters need a different motivation to “buy-in” to the concept of proficiency-based language teaching, there are definitely ways to touch all of them. Participants in the chat were able to come up with some great, specific ways to encourage change across the board.

  • @CalicoTeach: “In the tiny school district where I grew up, I think cultural exchange programs were the most successful advocates of languages.” @crwmsteach agreed, saying, “Parents are amazed to see/hear communication in real life.”
  • @mweelin: “Another source for increasing advocacy is alumni who return with stories of going abroad or majoring/minoring in languages–very powerful.”
  • @AudreyMisiano: “I use cross-age teaching events to advocate. My 7th graders teach Kindergartners & we perform in events like Holiday Sing-a-longs.”
  • @mweelin: “Round them up for Nat’l For Lang Week in March to talk to current students!”
  • @tmsaue1: “Invite your local and state representatives into your class.”
  • @lclarcq: “May seem hard with so many new “requrements” but prof. connections will save us personally and professionally.”
  • @mweelin: “If you can produce something positive and show them, they´ll be supportive. Increase your profile in community.”
  • @tmsaue1: “Don’t forget about all the advocacy resources on the @ACTFL website.”
  • @lclarcq: “Sharing success stories of experiences outside of class also a big winner. “Tweet” a list of places students used language.”
  • @MartinaBex: “Our WL inservice this fall brought in such students. It was very encouraging for us and they shared at Board of Education meeting!”
  • @tmsaue1: “Great elementary advocacy: print weekly learning targets on index cards. kids take home & perform, parents sign.”
  • @pamwesely: “Also: schools must be creative about what to do with students who don’t become proficient – repeating classes is a dead end.”
  • @tmsaue1: “We often celebrate cultural events through school-wide assemblies. how about celebrating actual language use?”
  • @DonaKimberly: Use “progressive portfolios to document language learning.”
  • @tmsaue1: “I think #langchat itself is a great advocacy tool as it has often talked about ways to promote proficiency-focused WL classrooms.”
  • @tmsaue1: “We will be giving all of our students dog tags this year that indicates their proficiency levels and language. They will say: “I’m a Novice High” speaker of _____ (lang).” Great reward for proficiency!
  • @cadamsf1: “My students sent out e-cards for languages month for them to take ownership as well.”

Other Links and Resources

SchoolTube – French ABC Practice
Lingua Folio Self Assessment Rubric
World Language Advocacy Pinterest Board (Audrey Misiano)
ACTFL Scholarship Opportunities

Thank you to our moderators for the evening. Also, thanks to all of you that came and shared your ideas and opinions: it wouldn’t be #langchat without you!

Please come by our Wiki and share your topic ideas for upcoming #langchats. You can also find a complete transcript of this chat and past conversations online.

#LangChat is an independent group of world-language education professionals who come together every week via Twitter to share ideas and discuss pressing issues in the world of education. Check out the #LangChat wiki for more information about our goals and the team behind it all here. These weekly discussion summaries are sponsored by Calico Spanish as a service to the world-language community.

01-29-08 by Fort Worth Squatch, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  Fort Worth Squatch 

Are changes on the foreign language AP exams going to break your students, or build their language skills?

“Students that know a second language statistically score higher on any standardized test compared to monolinguals. That’s something!” @darcypippens pointed out on Thursday night. Although her enthusiasm for teaching a second language was universally reiterated by our participants, excitement about standardized foreign language testing standards was not.

In light of recent changes to testing standards in the National AP exams for world languages, #langchat discussed the impact these changes might have to their teaching, and how to best prepare students to be successful on high-stakes evaluations.

Standardized World Language Tests: A Change for the Better?

One of the night’s moderators, @dr_dmd clarified the exact types of tests that were likely to be changed in the near future, including the Advanced Placement (AP), Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT), American College Test (ACT) and Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Although all of these tests were mentioned, the focus was placed on the AP and CCSS exams.

AP Exam Changes

@CoLeeSensei, @karacjacobs and @placido all shared the new guidelines for the AP Spanish test as an example of the 2013-2014 testing standards for world language, while @dr_dmd shared the French version. @Cadamsf1 rounded out the updates by providing a link for all world languages, and the changes broke down into the following elements:

  • Specific alignment with ACTFL 21st century foreign language learning standards.
  • Emphasis on interpersonal, presentation and interpretive speaking and writing communication.
  • Testing standards will highlight cultural competency and awareness of TL-speaking cultural perspectives.
  • Six thematic units will drive the testing framework. The themes are: contemporary life, beauty, aesthetics, global challenges, science and technology.
  • Clearly-defined learning objectives and curriculum framework for each element of the AP course, which will directly prepare students for items on the exam.
  • Integration of the ACTFL achievement level descriptions in order to provide consistent feedback and evaluation of student progress.

Teacher Response

In response to these new changes to testing standards, our #langchat participants were excited and expectant. Although the changes are big, many feel that they are moving in a direction that most language teachers have already begun on their own. @CoLeeSensei asked, “I’m wondering if the changes are a ‘change’ for many or reflect what we’re doing already in the classroom?” @trescolumnae responded: “I think it’s reciprocal – the changes in classrooms [create] changes in the AP [exam] etc., which drive further classroom changes.”

  • @placido is impressed by the new focus on authentic resources. “Ctrl F “authentic” and it shows up 46 times! Big Change!”
  • @karacjacobs says, “I love the idea of the overlapping themes of new Span AP Exam – could be used at all levels.”
  • @crwmsteach says, “The new AP support materials are much better at providing a variety of authentic materials.”
  • @trescolumnae explains, “Think the shortened reading list and combination of authors was a big step for the Latin test development committee.”
  • @cadamsf1 pointed out the new addition of a “comparative culture” competency.
  • @CoLeeSensei says, “We offer AP only as ‘independent study’ at our school – the changes speak to me being aware and able to guide kids properly.”
  • @atschwei states, “I think AP can be a wonderfully challenging experience for students…especially with the changes occurring beginning next year.”

Common Core State Standards

@dr_dmd then changed the focus towards Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Although the CCSS is not a “new” guideline for some, it is still very fresh to most of our #langchat participants.

Alignment of world language classrooms and CCSS is widespread, with only five US states not incorporating it into the general curriculum. Still, a number of participants expressed the difficulty in implementing this large-scale change, due to de-emphasis on language as a core standard class. @laurenna725 summed the problem up: “As a school common core is everything. As a discipline we are nothing.”

Some other thoughts about integrating CCSS:

  • @CoLeeSensie responds, “I’m reminded of this every time my admin talks about literacy and only looks at ELA teachers!”
  • @brevkin says, “Our department’s interpretation is that CCSS should apply to TARGET language, but we must use lower grade levels. More and more, language can’t be divided into talk, write, read and listen. Technology makes everything integrated in real world situations.”
  • @dr_dmd says, “[It is] still very critical that #WL teachers see how we support literacy STRONGLY and how that supports all students on Common Core.”
  • @trescolumnae provides a link to a document call “Essential Standards” that aligns CCSS with ACTFL standards. He says, “we in NC are really ahead of the game regarding this conversation.” @Dr_dmd also shares a link to a similar document that ACTFL is working on.
  • @CoLeeSensei says, “No Common Core in Canada, but it looks like it will actually increase everyone’s awareness of what actually happens in a WL class.”
  • @emilybakerhaynes shares her concern: “Lots of pressure now to teach students essay skills in L2. I’m for it-but curious…how they’ve missed these basic skills in native language?”
  • @KHillen01 shares, “CCSS for English actually require studentss to listen and read multiple sources and reference them. Similar to what we already do!”

How to Prepare Students for Changes to Testing Standards?

Many #langchat participants had novel ideas on how to best help students become more prepared for the new testing standards. The best ideas focused on maximizing teacher-student time with higher-level thinking activities, more emphasis on communication and cultural competency and authentic resource integration.

  • @Marishawins says, “Give assessments in the 3 modes- presentational interpretive and interpersonal.”
  • @darcypippins says, “Lots and lots of input! No grammar specified sections on AP exam.” In addition, she also suggests providing students a variety of authentic speakers to listen to.
  • @dr_dmd encourages teachers to start Wikis based around the six AP exam themes, and shares a link to a collaborative French AP preparation Wiki.
  • @brevkin states, “I would love for more authentic texts from post-classical to modern. More and better hooks to relevant topics.”
  • @placido encourages teachers to push students towards higher comprehension without overwhelming them. “I think a combo of carefully crafted comprehensible input and careful, guided exposure to authentic resources and more comprehensible input will equal success!”
  • @SenoritaClark: “More relevant text and online subscriptions! Students actually DO read…if the info is relevant and meaningful.”
  • @crwmsteach encourages teachers to help pave the way by using “authentic materials at lower levels too.”

Setting the Stage for Exam Exellence

As the evening progressed, it became clear that many AP teachers found that the most successful students were well-prepared at lower levels, by excellent teachers. This opening up a two-fold discussion about how teachers can prepare and cultivate their world language programs to ensure success for their AP students and how teachers themselves can be more prepared to support their students’ learning.

Cultivating Strong Language Programs

@dr_dmd was very honest in his question about the ability of teachers to have students prepared for high-stakes exams in only four years. He said, “Not sure if I can get students to advanced in four years, but I do try to keep them all four years.” This was a concern that a number of teachers seemed to understand very well. @placido agreed, saying, “I am just not sure if Advanced could be our “expectation” after 4 years. Some exceptions, but not as a rule?”

@HeatherMartens2 came up with a ringing point in response: “AP teachers cannot bear the weight of AP by themselves. All lower levels need to use global themes and authentic sources.” Teachers like @atschwei agreed. “In my humble opinion, it is not beyond most students with appropriate instruction in preceding years and motivation.”

Still, some questioned how to best motivate students and move them forward at an acceptable pace. Some great suggestions were given:

  • Give students reasonable expectations. @cadamsf1 says, “I’ve been trying to convince students of the language “V”: you start off strong and you climb towards proficiency. I think you have to be realistic and tell them where they are, especially if they are good students but have unrealistic expectations.”
  • Move towards performance-based curriculum. @LauraJaneBarber says, “[The advanced proficiency level] can be achieved in 4 years with performance-based curriculum.  Many students leave level 2 at intermediate low.”
  • “Hook” them in Level 1. @dr_dmd says, “If we can ‘hook them’ in level 1 with excellent materials, fun tasks, we will take them as far as we can in our whole program.”
  • Skip unnecessary elements. @cadamsf1 says, “we are insisting on beginning at at least level 2 because the textbook audio is ridiculously slow.”
  • Create a positive classroom atmosphere. @EmilyBakerHaynes does this by, “making it a goal to end every class with something fun to keep the energy and enthusiasm up!” @dr_dmd agrees: “It is so important to keep up relationships with the students so that they’ll keep coming back!”

Helping Teachers First

Another key component of making sure that students are adequately prepared for the changes to testing standards is by making sure that the teachers themselves are prepared. Participants agreed that many new teachers are not at a knowledge level to be able to prepare students for advance tests. @placido said, in one of the most retweeted comments of the night, “Most non-native beginning teachers are not even there!”

#Langchat participants overwhelming felt that more professional development was needed for language teachers. Unfortunately, money seemed to be the biggest roadblock. @dr_dmd said, “In this time of short money, it is hard to get districts to support professional growth for #WL teachers, especially with CCSS around the corner in US.”

Keeping Perspective

With all this emphasis on meeting testing standards, many teachers cautioned the participants to remember what is really important in the world language classroom: students. @SenoraClark said, “My students don’t really care about score. I think they simply love the language and course.”

This love of language and learning is a valuable component for any world language classroom. It is vital to remember that, although scoring well on these tests is important, critical thinking skills, communication and life-long love of language are the true goals.

Additional Resources

Common Core State Standards
Essential Standards Curriculum for Foreign Language (Natrona County Schools)
ACTFL Alignment with CCSS
What to Do When Students Lie? (Dr. Richard Curwin)
I Don’t Do It Because They Can’t Handle It (musicuentos)
Tres Columnae Learning Project
Spanish YouTube Commercials, Transcripts and Cloze Quizzes (Kara C. Jacobs)
Panorama Tempatico by Zambombazo

Thank you to our moderators @dr_dmd, @SECottrell, @coleesensei, @placido and @DiegoOjeda66. Also, thanks to all of you that came and shared your ideas and opinions: it wouldn’t be #langchat without you.

Please come by our Wiki and share your topic ideas for upcoming #langchats. You can also find a complete transcript of this chat and past conversations online.


Blaine-Cook-Northern-Voice-2012-20120616 by roland, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  roland 

Should language classrooms be translator-free, or can online translators be beneficial to learning?

This Thursday at #langchat, educators weighed the benefits and drawbacks of online translators and dictionaries. Although participants agreed that online dictionaries and translators can be a beneficial part of the language classroom, it was also clear that they can become a crutch if not specifically taught and monitored.

Two Sides of Translation

While many participants discussed the value of using online dictionaries in the world language classroom, they were divided on their views of students using online translators. A number of teachers came out fully against the use of translators, while others did not see any real danger in using them to enhance the learning experience.

Teachers concerned with using translators cited ethical problems, inaccuracies in translation and weakened communication skills. Those participants who were supportive of using translators described OTs’ ability to more accurately reflect changing language, engage students through technology and motivate them to increase their personal vocabulary.

Learn the language, not to translate

One important point that was made during #langchat was that students too reliant on translators may be depriving themselves of important learning experiences. @MartinaBex admitted to having plugged all of her Spanish homework into a translator during one Spanish course. She said, “I learned nothing (shocking, I know).”

Several in the forum agreed with @SECottrell that translation requires a high level of proficiency in both target and source languages, and students must first learn the language.

Reminding us to be clear on the objective of the assignment (is it to see if the student can use a translator or if they can use the language?) @SrtaRad prods, “We need to see what THEY know…NOT a machine.” More bluntly put by @SraHoopes, “Google does the work, Google gets the points.”

Other reasons to avoid translators:

  • They may hamper the students’ learning process by allowing them to use words they don’t know. @Senoralopez said, “…they really cheat themselves because they are not learning.”
  • @Thevirtualapple says students will ultimately benefit from “figuring out meaning from context”
  • @Madameaiello is “afraid students won’t know how how to interact [in] real-time.”
  • @MartinaBex worries that students will have no back-up oral skills should the device’s battery die
  • @SraSpanglish shared her blog with the Top 10 Reasons an Education Is Better Than a Translator
  • Some teachers complain that translator us in class is not an accurate depiction of students’ language abilities. @KirbyFecho says, “I avoid computers/tools when doing in class writing assessments. We want to see students’ language abilities, not Freetranslation‘s!”
  • Others speak of translation inaccuracies as a key reason to avoid them. @DiegoOjeda66 observed, “Google can’t keep up (for now) with current uses of daily language.” @SraSpanglish joked, “We should totally have a blog for translator mistakes that we see!”

Ethical Concerns

Debating how serious of a crime use of an OT is for student homework, some teachers, like @donna_shelton, warned that plagiarism is a serious offense. She said, “[Students] cheating w/Google Translate is [a] serious problem at [the] university level where writing must be done out of class.” This type of behavior can often lead to expulsion and loss of credit, although some high school teachers complained that their students didn’t really take it seriously. @MartinaBex said that she confronted her students about plagiarism and “they did NOT understand why it was a problem!”

An important distinction was made, however, as some teachers felt that using single words or translated phrases was not akin to copying full paragraphs of translated material. @HeatherMartens2 said, “Students using translators for sentences and paragraphs is plagiarism. [The] goal is to teach them to use them like a dictionary.” @KMachinRBE agreed and expanded this definition: “For single words and translation while reading, no problem. Submitting whole sentences and paragraph translations as [their] own? Plagiarism.”

While some teachers like @mweelin, actively discourage translator use in class to avoid plagiarism, other teachers see it as a natural condition of the teaching experience. @CristinaZimmer4 said, “Copying is a problem with anything, though. Guess you just have to trust them enough to want to learn something.”

Technology and the Teacher

Regardless of its pitfalls, our #langchat posters had to admit that translators are here to stay, so it’s best to figure out how to use them to our advantage.

@DiegoOjeda66 helped make the connection between online translators and Texas Instruments calculators, and @emilybakerhanes linked their use in both language and math as a tool that can be manipulated only once the basics have been mastered. Calculators, dictionaries and translators are all great tools, concluded @esantacruz13, but “we have to teach [students] to use them the right way or they’re useless.”

Many teachers agreed that this is the real need: to teach students how and when to use online translators properly. @SEOCottrell said, “Translation is a high-level skill that requires proficiency, not promotes it. We need to communicate this to students.” @Lclarcq responded, “[The] issue is to promote judicious use which requires self control, often hard for adolescents.” @CristinaZimmer4 was emphatic: “Students read and write more IN class because of technology. Teach [them] how to use Word Reference in class so as to use [it] well.”

Tucking OTs into your bag of teaching tricks

Participants disagreed about whether online translators and online dictionaries are equally beneficial. Although the terms are often interchanged, it was clear that many prefer to use only the online dictionaries. As this field covers more terrain, the boundaries between the two will likely continue to blur and offer ever more information-rich returns.

Preferred Translator: Google Translate

When is it okay to let students use it? “For summative assignments”, says @senoralopez. Only after the fact does @SECottrell allow them to use it “to check reading comprehension.”

These group games with Google were offered:

  • @DiegoOjeda66 suggests students play “In how many ways can you say the same thing?”
  • @DiegoOjeda66 also encouraged teachers to incorporate Google Translator Voice as another character in student conversations.
  • @DiegoOjeda66 said to have students translate a text to the L2, then compare with the Google Translate version. Make it a competition.
  • @CristinaZimmer4 suggested using Google Translate to “translate Spanish slang to see how it comes out in English.”

For more advanced levels, @mme_henderson uses Google to “create writer’s notebooks in Evernote with authentic language from blogs, forums, etc.”

Preferred Dictionary: WordReference

Posters raved about this resource that puts words into context, offers loads of alternatives and lets users hash out the nuanced meanings in long-threaded forums.

Students at @Catherineku1972’s school use the WordReference app on their iPods, while other teachers visit the website to make a point of showing their students how to correctly look up a word online.

Resourceful ideas:

  • Explore nuances, idioms, slang in their forums, says @SECottrell
  • Build off vocab lists to create sentences, write a short story or draw pictures, encourages @esantacruz13
  • After reading the definitions in WR, do a Google search to read it in context of articles, recommended @cadamsf1 and seconded by many

More recommended online dictionaries

Linguee is the tool @mme_henderson uses for phrases in context.

Lingro (The coolest dictionary known to hombre!) was introduced to several Spanish teachers by @dr_dmd

French teachers have two dictionaries Le grand dictionnaire terminologique (GDT) and Le dictionnaire multifonctions

Plus the Bonpatron spell-checker that @KirbyFecho claims “helps students autocorrect without giving answers.”

Brain as the Source, Translator as the Resource

@CoLeeSensei gives this advice to her students: “I tell them to use their brain as the source and their translator as the resource.” The underlying theme of this thread was summed up by @SenoritaClark, identifying the necessity to “teach students the confidence they need, so [as to] not rely on tech as a reflex.”

Ways to ensure true learning and appropriate use of OTs

  • Do writing exercises in class is the consensus; @mme_henderson likes to emphasize that writing is a process.
  • Use class time to engage students in live interaction, urges @lclarcq.
  • Assign homework that can’t be copied; @esantacruz13 recommends reading or watching a TV show, while @CristinaZimmer4 suggest listening acts.
  • Avoid dictionary dependency by prompting students to “Use what you know, to say what you want to say,” encourages @profeslack.
  • Encourage circumlocution instead of over-referencing. @SraHoopes explains what she does in her class: “Lots of circumlocution practice so they won’t feel the need to use translators.”

Additional word-acquisition and language-learning websites

  • @esantacruz13 suggests Duolingo language courses, “where most of the learning happens by translating.”
  • @LauraJaneBarber loves Quizlet for more translations and general learning.
  • Students of @srashrader download flashcards, Quizlet app and Edmodo on their phone
  • A word game played on phones, @lclarcq says “my students new craze is Ruzzle.”
  • To help teach writing, @mme_henderson pointed to a Pinterest literacy page.

A Final Reflection

Although there were a number of excellent comments and ideas shared about how, when and if translators and dictionaries should be used in the world language classroom, distilling a consensus was a difficult task. @Dr_DMD attempted to give a succinct set of standards for using translators and dictionaries in order to reflect the group discussion.

  • We value proficiency over translation.
  • We value relationships with kids. Teach them a better way and help them see why and how it is better.
  • Offer a rich authentic linguistic environment, and offer students voice and choice to engage in good L2 acquisition.
  • Help students learn how to use good tools, digital and others, with excellent critical thinking opportunities.
  • Help kids avoid the translation game, but have fun making fun of it too! it IS FUNNY!
  • Laugh often and enjoy your students!

Thank You!

As always, thanks to all our participants and moderators for sharing your great ideas and discussion! #Langchat and all these resources wouldn’t exist without your support each week.

Be sure to join us next week for another great discussion on #langchat! Feel free to let us know what you’d like to discuss by visiting our topic suggestion form. Also, check out the full archive of Thursday’s chat.

#LangChat is an independent group of world-language education professionals who come together every week via Twitter to share ideas and discuss pressing issues in the world of education. Check out the #LangChat wiki for more information about our goals and the team behind it all here. These weekly discussion summaries are sponsored by Calico Spanish as a service to the world-language community.