Charlene Polio suggests that online translators can be useful tools for L2 learning. Some of her ideas are interesting, others I find less appealing. For instance, I wonder if extended translation exercises such as the one Polio proposes (reconstruct the original text from a “weird” translation, p. 4) are really worth spending time on. Given that our students have very little time to practice the target language, should we really be focusing on translations rather than on practising the target language?
However, I like Polio’s suggestion of comparing different translations. Everybody, including myself uses online tools for translating, and it is extremely important to teach students how to use these tools. As Polio notes, “using translators for vocabulary lessons can illustrate to students the lack of one-to-one correspondence across languages” (p. 4). I could not agree more. Translations are difficult and need to be done carefully. Certain questions cannot be answered by translators, and that is why I like Polio’s idea of making annotated revisions of a text with the option of leaving some questions to be answered by the teacher. Another very simple way of checking if certain phrases are commonly used in the target language is by typing them into google. If a student were unsure whether the phrase “il a cassé la jambe” or “il s’est cassé la jambe” is correct, he or she could type the two sentences into google. He or she would then find that “il a cassé la jambe” provides 12,900 hits, while “il s’est cassé la jambe” produces 129,000 hits. So probably, the second sentence is more commonly used in French. Of course, this method is by no means perfect, but it is another way of checking your language use if you do not have access to a native-speaker/teacher.