Vocabulary- Lost in Translation

What happens when an English phrase is translated (by computer) back and forth between 5 different languages?

Lost in Translation is a fun little web page that does all that translation for you using Babelfish. Why in the world would you want to do this? Well, it’s funny and while it can become nonsense very easily, with a little effort this is a fun and interesting way to get students looking at vocabulary and language. It’s fun and easy so why not give it a shot.

I type in “I love the ocean”
and get-

Translated to French:
J’aime l’océan

Translated back to English:
I like the ocean – now we’ve got a synonym! Is it close enough to keep the meaning?

Translated to German:
Ich mag den Ozean

Translated back to English:
I like the ocean – ditto above

Translated to Italian:
Gradisco l’oceano

Translated back to English:
I appreciate the ocean – another synonym! I know you’re excited.

Translated to Portuguese:
Eu aprecio o oceano

Translated back to English:
I appreciate the ocean – Sadly, this worked pretty well.

Translated to Spanish:
Aprecio el océano

Translated back to English:
Esteem the ocean – Now this is a very different phrase than we started out with. Does esteem mean the same thing as love? Is “esteem the ocean” a sentence? Why/why not? Lots of questions available there.

With some effort you could get a lot of vocabulary worked in this way and it’s a fun thing for kids. You could start out with the end sentence and try to figure you what the original sentence was.

Comments on this post

  1. Bea C said on September 3, 2007 at 8:23 am

    I have done this many times in the past to show my Spanish students why they need to learn rather than having an absolute reliance on technology. I had never thought of using translators for generating synonims.

    Give this a try: Enter an idiom, something like “in the ballpark” and see what happens. When students write for sharing online, they should remember to stay away from words and phrases that only Americans will understand. I’ve used this tool for showing them that as well.

  2. william said on September 3, 2007 at 6:05 pm

    That is truly interesting, I appreciate your comment, it truly is people like you who further my belief that I am doing something far greater in this profession than going into business. Thanks for the words of encouragement, our entire class is following your blog with great interest.

    oh yeah WAR EAGLE! if youre not too much of a hokie…(a black ribbon for your tragedy)

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