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Babel Grammar

posted: 9.25.06 by Barclay Barrios

Have students take a sentence from their drafts and translate it into another language using an online tool such as Babel Fish or Google’s Language Tools. Students might even choose to translate it several times (from English to French to German to Chinese); in the end, translate it back into English. The resulting sentence will be a mess. Have students use the handbook to determine where the mess happened and why (e.g., “The verb shifted in tense and number”).

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Grammar & Style, Teaching with Technology
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One Response to “Babel Grammar”

  1. Anne Bosworth Says:

    The exercise has worked especially well for me. A few years ago, I began using this strategy with ESL writers (many of whom have excellent meta-language skills for talking about grammar & style). I speak and read in Italian, and read in French and Spanish, so it was particularly easy for me to work with Romance languages because we could talk about prefered grammatical structures and word choices.

    Working with some form of electronic translator also allows writers to examine differences in how we use verbs or prepositions. In Spanish and Italian, for example, you do not “take” a shower; instead, you “have” a shower. When I go to Venice there are signs on the main walkways that point toward Rialto Bridge and Piazza San Marco (two major attractions). In America, those signs would say: “TO Rialto” or “TO Piazza San Marco.” However, in Spanish and Italian the signs would be translated to read: “FOR Rialto” and “FOR Piazza San Marco.” This exercise opens the pathway for conversations about how prepositions (indicator words) function in English grammar.