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Open Access Publications from the University of California


The L2 Journal is an open access, fully refereed, interdisciplinary journal which aims to promote the research and the practice of language learning and teaching. It publishes articles in English on all aspects of applied linguistics broadly conceived, i.e., second language acquisition, second language pedagogy, bilingualism and multilingualism, language and technology, curriculum development and teacher training, testing and evaluation.

Machine Translation & Language Education: Implications for Theory, Research, & Practice

Preface and Introduction to the Special Issue

General Editor' Preface

This first special issue of 2022 is guest edited by two scholars with attested expertise in the use of digital technology in foreign language education, in particular machine translation, and the issues it raises for applied linguistic research and practice.

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

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.


Thirty Years of Machine Translation in Language Teaching and Learning: A Review of the Literature

Although use of machine translation (MT) technologies by learners may seem like a relatively new issue in foreign language (FL) education, researchers have been investigating connections between MT tools and FL teaching and learning for more than three decades, years before learners had access to free online services such as Google Translate. This literature review summarizes this rapidly expanding research domain both chronologically and thematically, identifying key concepts, insights, and findings and mapping them onto a framework inspired by questions commonly asked by both researchers and practitioners: How do learners use MT tools? What do instructors and learners think about MT? How might MT use affect language learning? How should instructors respond to MT use by learners? By summarizing and drawing connections between the assumptions, methods, and findings of key studies in these categories, this review provides a historical perspective and suggests new directions for future research.


From Disrupted Classrooms to Human-Machine Collaboration? The Pocket Calculator, Google Translate, and the Future of Language Education

This article argues that consumer-oriented machine translation software applications are disrupting foreign language education. In order to mitigate this impact, the article provides guidance on how to transform teachers’ perceptions of online translators. This process is a critical precondition for the gradual and thoughtful implementation of online translators in the foreign language classroom. The first part of the articles will define the concept of disruption and use the pocket calculator as an historical example to illustrate challenges and solutions for an educational setting that was fundamentally impacted by a new technology. The second part will turn to the present and focus on the impact of online translators not only on ways humans communicate across languages in authentic real-world settings, but also on the foreign language classroom. In the third part, we will argue that a careful recalibration of educational objectives that will have to include the students’ ability to engage effectively in tasks that rely on human-machine collaboration will provide an opportunity to integrate online translators and related technologies into foreign language curricula. To this end, we propose that future generations of language learners need to develop specific competencies that will qualify them to effectively collaborate with online translators and related technologies. The conclusion will outline future leadership priorities for professional organizations and teacher training programs while acknowledging the limitations associated with the integration of the machine translation technologies into language learning environments.

Perceptions and Practices of Machine Translation Among 6th-12th Grade World Language Teachers

Many researchers and educators have studied the use of Machine Translation (MT) in the L2 classroom, yet little data exists on World Language 6-12th grade educators’ perceptions of MT. This study inquires into the ways that middle school and high school L2 educators perceive MT and how educators are adapting their assignments in light of its use. The results of this study show that a punitive approach is prevalent, in that MT is largely banned, and that infractions result in a wide array of consequences for students. The findings also suggest that a more deliberate inclusion of MT practices in the L2 classroom would be beneficial to teachers and students. For this reason, the study concludes with pedagogical suggestions regarding the incorporation of MT in the L2 classroom.

Proficiency and the Use of Machine Translation: A Case Study of Four Japanese Learners

While the use of machine translation (MT) in the classroom has been explored from various perspectives, the relationship between language proficiency and MT use regarding learners’ behaviors and beliefs remains unclear in the research literature. This study focused on four Japanese learners with various language proficiencies from a fourth-year Japanese language class (two advanced-level, one intermediate-high, and one novice-high level) and investigated how they edited self-written text with MT by examining the scope and types of revisions they made as well as their perceptions about using MT for editing. The data included four types of drafts of a writing assignment: (1) D1 (self-written drafts in Japanese without the help of MT); (2) D2 (revised corresponding drafts in L1 provided by MT); (3) D3 (drafts in Japanese provided by MT based on D2); (4) D4 (revised drafts based on comparison of D1 and D3) and their reflection papers. The results show that the four participants adopted various ways of editing self-written text. While all the participants’ revisions are at local levels, the two advanced level learners primarily focused on vocabulary revision while the other two learners’ revisions extended to the sentence level. The findings also show that the advanced-level and intermediate-high-level learners have various degrees of positive attitudes toward using MT. In contrast, while the positive effects of MT use are acknowledged, the novice-high level learner also feels ashamed and dishonest when using MT. This article concludes with insights that can assist instructors in facilitating MT as a pedagogical tool for language learning and teaching with diverse students.


Machine Translation: Friend or Foe in the Language Classroom?

Machine translation (MT) provides a seemingly accelerated alternative way to communicate in the target language (L2). A convenient service to the public, MT renders a potential disservice to language learners. In this pedagogically focused article, we show concrete and detailed examples of how language instructors can turn MT and other electronic tools such as translation memories, grammar- and spell-checkers, or mapping tools into virtual assistants to empower students to use them responsibly. Two classroom interventions, one at a large public research university on the West coast and the second one at a medium-sized public university in the Midwest, aimed to develop students’ awareness of the language learning process, while introducing them to various online tools that can help them communicate better in L2 without blindly using MT. The interventions were designed for intermediate level students. The first group of students were part of an advanced composition course who were shown limitations of MT and alternative editorial tools in L2, while the second group was part of an introductory literature course in which students were introduced to reasoning maps, such as mind, concept, and argument maps, to assist them with L2 communication. The main takeaways from these interventions were the need to readjust the students’ attitudes as much as the instructors’ mindsets if we want to make MT an ally. Shifting focus from accuracy to comprehensibility changes the stakes in L2 communication as the production of meaning becomes an exercise in student agency and leads to the satisfaction of being able to communicate spontaneously in the target language.

Exploring Foreign Language Students’ Perceptions of the Guided Use of Machine Translation (GUMT) Model for Korean Writing

This study examines students’ perceptions of the Guided Use of Machine Translation (GUMT) model and their perceptions of GUMT’s impact on their foreign language (FL) writing. Adapted from O’Neill (2016, 2019b), GUMT model activities were developed and implemented in an upper-elementary Korean as a FL course at a large southwestern U.S. university. At the beginning of the semester, students received an instructional session on how to use machine translation (MT) effectively as the first step of GUMT. The session included 1) the potential strengths and weaknesses of two online Korean MT platforms, Google Translate and Papago; and 2) the combined use of other online resources (e.g., image and news searches) to enhance students’ awareness of pragmatic issues related to MT output. Throughout the semester, students applied the GUMT model to writing assignments and wrote reflections on their GUMT practice. Students also received continuous feedback from instructors on MT use. Analyses of pre- and post-surveys and students’ reflections indicate that the GUMT model played an important role in fostering MT use strategies and improving students’ confidence and self-perceptions of their fluency in FL writing.

What’s Wrong with “What is your name?” > “Quel est votre nom?”:Teaching Responsible Use of MT through Discursive Competence and Metalanguage Awareness

In this article, a learner-centered pedagogical process for scaffolding a deliberate use of MT is presented with the goal of promoting student agency and personal expression. By developing awareness that translations entail contextually-sensitive options, students learn to critically assess different forms while actively engaging with translation software. Grounded within SLA research on interaction and negotiation of meaning, our meta-translation feedback circuit supports form-function mappings whereby students analyze and potentially adjust machine-generated translations. Within this functional approach, each component involves a series of questions adaptable to varying proficiency levels and languages. The first set invites students to situate the speech activity within its sociopragmatic context and to make explicit connections with recently studied topics. The second set helps students investigate MT’s output through a formal language analysis of referents within and across sentences. The third focuses on integration by checking for adequacy of fit between forms and situated meaning. The feedback circuit is illustrated in the context of a 3rd semester French course and is followed by pedagogical strategies applicable to any foreign language classroom. Embedding computer-aided translation into an otherwise traditional L2 task represents an opportunity to foster dialogue on MT, create a teacher-mediated metalinguistic analysis of MT output, connect with the language learners’ ‘toolbox’, and support intentional engagement with the activity itself.

Using an ADAPT Approach to Integrate Google Translate into the Second Language Classroom

The increasing prevalence of students’ use of Google Translate has been the catalyst for re-developing the language classroom. Through progressive adaptations, Google Translate has been integrated to help support meaningful language learning, academic rigor and intellectual curiosity. Five key steps form the foundation of the ADAPT approach: amending assignments, discussing Google Translate, assessing with Google Translate in mind, practicing integrity, and training students to use Google Translate. Through this approach, students can be guided in a more mindful use of Google Translate that supports academic rigor and meaningful language learning. This paper outlines the ways in which Google Translate been integrated into beginning and intermediate online Spanish courses. The results of a small study that investigated students’ perceptions and uses of Google Translate in two fully online first-semester Spanish courses that used the ADAPT approach found a diverse mix of uses and perceptions. Students who used Google Translate had neither excessive advantages nor disadvantages. The author argues for a broader acceptance and integration of Google Translate so instructors can better manage their students’ Google Translate use, so students can be guided to more mindful practices and so more productive discussions can take place between language instructors and students.

A “Hands-On” Approach to Raise Awareness of Technologies: A Pilot Class and its Lessons

Despite attempts to discourage the use of machine translation (MT), we have observed that students continue to rely on it. Are teachers powerless? We believe not! Consistent with a range of solutions proposed in previous publications, we hypothesized that a “hands-on” approach would be effective in helping students raise awareness of the benefits and limitations of machine translation. This approach strives to reframe machine translation from an object of interdiction to an object of critical reflection. Hence, we created, implemented, and evaluated a 50-minute online lesson during Fall 2020. Our aim was to guide students toward a critical awareness of various machine translation tools [Google Translate (GT), (WR), French dictionaries] by choosing carefully crafted machine translation examples and asking students to correct them in class (“post-editing”). We also tried to track any potential change in the students’ representations via a confidential pre- and a post-survey, and an audio-record of the interactions in class. One of our main results is that a majority of the students had already built complex representations and clever usages of machine translation before the class, much more than what we had expected. This allows us to reflect on what kind of impacts can or cannot be expected from such a class and to discuss the benefits and limits of such an approach to better integrate translation tools into second language teaching.