Machine Translation in the World Languages Classroom: Meeting the Challenge to Instructional Design

Matthew Kelly, Spanish, Independence High School

Final Unit (PDF)  Implementing Common Core Standards (PDF)


World Languages curricula and instructional design must keep pace with social and technological realities. Every year, students ask, “Why do we need to learn a language when my phone can translate anything I want?” It’s an existential question for World Languages teachers. The current state of the art in machine assisted translation is still entirely dependent upon the work of human translators. Machine translation does not make human expertise obsolete. Nonetheless, Smartphone-based machine translation does to language classrooms what the calculator did to math classrooms in the 1970’s and 1980’s. World Languages teachers are ignoring the phenomenon. Teachers must assume that any task that can be completed with the aid of machine translation will be. The impact of machine translation begs a redesign of our World Languages curricula, instructional methods and assessment strategies. This unit will present a brief history of machine translation and a simplified explanation of how machine translation works. The unit will go on to present suggestions for successfully engaging with the phenomenon of machine translation in the classroom.