Googling my way in Japanese

Whoaholic told me his French teacher has told him off for using Google Translate for his French. She said that using the internet to learn languages is cheating. He told her that he was using the internet to learn German and French, and his Mum used it for Russian. She told him to shut up and get on with his work.

I told him that I use Google Translate a lot to help me learn Japanese.

The main problems I was having with Japanese are that I can’t read it and I don’t know any grammar. I don’t even know where words start and end, so I don’t know what I bits to look up in a dictionary.

What I can do now, when I get stuck, is stick whole phrases into Google Translate, which gives me a translation, a sound clip and a phonetic (romaji) rendering that I can put into the LingQ Hint. Often the translations are a bit rubbish, but that’s not as important to me as getting the phonetic rendering plus Google Translate’s opinion of where the individual words start and finish. Then I can edit the phrase in Google Translate to find out what all the individual words mean.

Anyone else use Google Translate to help learn languages? Or who thinks it’s cheating?

The teacher sounds ridiculous! Your student is trying to learn on their own using the internet and they are “cheating”? Not surprising given the general level of openness of language teachers to newer ways of doing things.

Your use of Google Translate makes a lot of sense to me. The system does do a pretty good job of splitting the Japanese into the blue lingQs I find and Babylon and other dictionaries do also provides the hiragana. The hiragana is definitely a must. For phrases, Google translate is definitely the way to go.

Actually Mark, there are many teachers using google and other such tools, and their number is increasing. I am surprised at this teacher.

I understand the teachers concerns, but only to an extent. Some kids in language classes do use online software to cheat: ie, using it to do homework without any interest in actually learning the material. But to me this is a lousy way to cheat, most students aren’t going to be knowledgeable enough in the language to actually make sense of the translation, not to mention word order is almost always butchered and their definition of words that have many meanings usually pick the meaning that makes least sense.

However I do see it as a somewhat valuable tool, albeit it very limited in value. I often use google translate when I’m translating, not to translate words for me necessarily, but for the helpful layout: I usually translate the text (usually German) into it’s own language, that way it puts the original German (sometimes with a few words off, for some odd reason) into the right bracket. Then I translate and type the English into the left side: this gives me a wonderful way to look at what I’m translating side-by-side with what is being translated, helping me learn the meanings more effectively and, in the case of poetry, testing out methods of making the translation more poetic and beautiful rather than literal and oftentimes boring.

For me though as an actual translation software it is only good if the user is knowledgeable enough to notice the mistakes and correct them. For instance in German translations Google has a hard time translating pronouns properly, for instance “he” or “she” rather than “it” and vice versa. This is just one of the various problems, but not enough to make it useless.

My biggest worry with translation software is that most people use it as a quick fix of getting a quick translation. This takes away from the beauty of wanting to learn a language: for instance growing up I remember listening to German music, and the desire to know what they were singing about was part of what got me into learning. But now with these quick fixes, it may take some of that desire in the new generations (and later generations who are tech savvy) away.

@ der_wanderer: was für ein guter Tipp! (Das mit dem parallel Text.) Danke.

@SanneT: Gern geschehen!