The Google Translate Experiment

Two teens from Italy in Portland, ME over the summer.  One teen librarian.
What the heck is gonna bring them together?

It’s not a mind blowing idea.  But I will tell you this…it works.  Here’s our simple story about how we bonded thanks to some technology.

For the first two days, our interaction was limited to “computer” and “yes”.  They wanted the computer and I was happy to provide them with access.  It seemed to be the one bright point in their time at the library.  They could log onto to Facebook and chat with their friends back home.  Smiles erupted from their faces and for a brief moment, I was happy that I could give them that little bit of happiness.  But the librarian in me kept on brainstorming.  How can I extend their happiness?  There’s got to be more to America for these teens than just one hour of talking with their friends on the computer.

Enter Google Translate.  It started with one simple message:

Ti prego di perdonarmi. Non parlo italiano, ma spero che se io uso questo strumento posso parlare con voi.

Their first response?  They decided to forgo the Italian and communicate with me through a smile that went from ear to ear.

Their first use for the Google Translate came to me in the form of a question:

Una grande idea! Puoi aiutarci a imparare l’inglese?

Perfect.   I was able to see that the teens really wanted something more out of their trip than just some time in the states over the summer.  They wanted to learn English.  While I could not be their full time tutor, I could give them a start.  We exchanged some basic words and phrases in person, which we then went over using Google Translate to help us understand them a bit better.  Ciao, posso aiutarti con qualcosa oggi? was my first attempt at Italian and it has stuck in my head.  So, I guess this works…

Flash forward to a few weeks later.  The teens are regulars at the library a few times a week.  We learn some phrases each time they come in, but thanks to another librarian at my library the teens now have a tutor who speaks fluent Italian and teaches them English in the library.  Cool stuff.  Thank you Google Translate.

La biblioteca … la lingua universale

-Post by Justin Hoenke, Tame the Web Contributor

10 thoughts on “The Google Translate Experiment”

  1. Very cool! We had some resourceful students in our school library last year “talking” to new foreign exchange students through Google Translate.

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  3. The Arabic letters did not past well on that comment. My apologies. I do not seem to have the capability to delete and repost. :-)

  4. There is a down side with Google Translate: Not all things translate well. For example, I found it does a fairly decent German if I type in my sentences properly. A friend of mine says the Spanish is more like “Spanglish” (a combination of English and Spanish that the Mexicans brought over into the U.S.). The upside to these language barrier problems is to make vocabulary suggestions to improve the translation through Google Translate. And of course, not all words are translatable since some words are more proprietary for the culture of that country. Other than that, I pretty much use Google Translate with my friends around the world through various types of web applications.

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