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Do You Speak Translate?: Reflections on the Nature and Role of Translation

  • Author(s): Vinall, Kimberly;
  • Hellmich, Emily
  • et al.
Abstract

The world of language education is intimately and undeniably implicated in the presence, use, and development of machine translation software. On a classroom level, students are increasingly using machine translation in the classroom and in the “real world,” through travel, study abroad, and work internships. On a professional level, this increased use raises concerns about the relevance of language education: what role does or should language education serve? On a theoretical level, the very prospect of using technology to manipulate language brings into question the nature of language itself. As machine translation technologies advance, language researchers and educators find themselves implicated in these broader conversations that touch on its influence on meaning making, communication, and the very meaning of being human in a digital era. In other words, machine translation is not simply a matter of using software like Google Translate to translate words from one language to another. Rather, it is a matter of so much more. Machine translation brings to the fore (re)considerations of the role of context, culture, and pragmatics in language use and meaning making, all of which impact the continued development of methodologies and classroom pedagogical practices. To enter this conversation requires learning to speak translate—that is, to understand the history of translation as it relates to language education and to examine the implications of machine translation for language education. In this special issue, we ask what is at stake in the use of machine translation for our classrooms, our students, ourselves as educators and researchers, for the world languages teaching profession, and for society at large.

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