Monday, October 01, 2007

The hazards of using translation software

While I was collecting homework today, which had been done over the vacation for myself and for the Japanese professor who has my students every other week, I came across this sentence:

It was not clear and lived in every day whether I want to become thing and what which I wanted to do without can have what dream.

I think I must have been here too long. I actually understood what this meant. I know how computer translation software works – not because I use it, but because so many of my students do, thinking I will not notice.

I do notice. Most of my students, however low their level, write better than computer translation software can. At the very least they garble shorter, simpler sentences.

I wonder now whether the Japanese professor realizes that all (yes, ALL – I checked) the homework she has been given has been translated by computer? I looked through what the students handed in before passing it on, and it was perfectly obvious to me that the students had simply copied and pasted from translation software. As I passed it on I also assumed that their professor knows that and has decided to ignore it.

But just now, as I was typing that horrible sentence, it occurred to me that the professor might NOT know. One of these homework assignments was written on the back of an old homework assignment, similarly written by computer and similarly garbled, and the professor (who has a PhD in linguistics) had given it quite a high grade and had written the comment,

Very good effort!

When I saw it I thought, Ha! An ironic comment! How funny!

But just now I thought of the professor, who has never shown any inclination or talent for irony, and started to have serious doubts.

COULD SHE REALLY HAVE NOT NOTICED? I thought. And yes, I thought it in capital letters.

And now I am thinking (in smaller, chastened letters),

In fact it is entirely possible, even probable, that she has not noticed.

This puts me in a very difficult situation, as this professor is my boss and has a PhD, whereas I only have a lowly M. App. Ling. These things matter in Japan.

Should I tell her?


Anonymous said...

Nope. You can't tell her. But you a comment re the sheer awfulness of trans software results, and how this is annoying when one is grading student work...

tinyhands said...

Given what you know about the state of higher education (particularly language instruction) in Japan, how much respect are you actually willing to give a PhD in linguistics?

But, as you stated, it's both your boss and Japan. Pointing out her flaws is not done. From what I understand, however, you can take her out, get drunk, and rip her a new one.

Badaunt said...

Anon: Yes, I think this is the way to go. Make some offhand comment about how much of the homework I set was done using translation software, and how I recognize it, and see if she picks up the hint. (Actually they did my homework using their own heads, because I'd already warned them.)

But I'm just a little worried she might have told them it was OK to use translation software. It is the sort of thing she'd do ...

Tinyhands: Unfortunately she got her PhD at the same university (Australian) where I got my M.App.Ling. This is SHOCKING, but true (or at least according to her it's true). I can only imagine she is academically bright but socially totally inept. Academic brightness does not rule out insanity. This is well known. Or else the university is very forgiving of high-paying foreign students? I can't see that, though. They certainly weren't very forgiving to me, and there was no question of them simply giving me the degree because I'd paid (less than non-Kiwis or non-Australians, but still).

But I think the 'same university' thing might account at least a little for her adoption of me as current 'pet,' which has lasted almost three years now. That's practically a record, since she's only been at the university for a bit longer than that and has managed to alienate practically everybody else in that time. (I'm not so sure that she's actually NOTICED this, though. According to her, she is greatly loved and respected, from what I gather.)

I'm not very sure about the getting drunk thing, either. The new one to get ripped might be mine. She is famous for it, and ... hmm, I don't think that I'm really ready for a new one yet. I'm kind of happy with the OLD one.

The whole thing is a bit tricky.

Mattias said...

Hello there BadAunt!

Sorry for the long comment!

Just finished reading your blog (all of it, took me 2-3 days, I'm a slow reader) and found it both funny and enlightening. I've managed to accumulate a couple of questions while reading... hrm... You see, I'm studying japanese and I'm hoping I will be able to work as a classroom teacher (no eikawa for gods sake!) in japan. Soooo... I'd be immensely grateful if you would at least try to answer my questions! Anyways, on with the questions.

First off... On paper I've probably aquired (uhm, couldn't use got with good conscience in your comments =) less english education than your students. I think I'd be able to breeze through a business english level test though... perhaps even pass a native level test. What kind of certificate/diploma/exam/whatever would you recommend I get to prove my level of english in japan?

You mentioned a couple of students cheating on a test in January, and that you confiscated their cheatsheets. Where I come from you would definatly fail the test (doesn't matter how much/little you've already done) and would (in higher education) face expulsion. I know you've made a point in the past to differentiate between japanese universities and REAL universities, are they really that lenient with students?

Can you suggest any good source on stresses in english, particularly british english if possible (even better would be a comprehensible comparision of both uk and american english). I think I get it right most of the time but it doesn't take much to spot a non-native speaker. It just hit me that there might not be any difference on stresses in american and british english... I think japanese is quite simple because it's supposed to be fairly monotonous, and finnish always puts the stress on the first syllable. Other than swedish and english those are the languages that I'm familiar with (I'm a swede btw).

I love your beautiful pictures, great colors and whatnot... and I don't understand how you can find all those strange cats with gorgeous eyes and make them pose for you! My cat refuses to give me any decent poses, most of the time I think I'll get a good picture, but he always manages to turn around and show me his butt in that splitsecond before the camera has reacted and taken the picture! (appreciative comment strategically placed in the middle so you'll feel compelled to continue answering my questions... =)

What, with your experience, do you reckon would happen if one would assert ones gaijin-ness? Demand, for example, to be shown tests, like the one you mentioned your collegue having to administer back in July, beforehand for you approval (and then proofread and ask inane questions to be removed).
Also, if I had explained at the beginning of a test that they are to be returned upon completion I would fail faIL FAIL them for walking away with the tests. I wouldn't let student redo homework either if it was graded and I found that they had cheated. On that note I wonder, how do you know texts have been done with translation software? I can understand the long strange sentences that sound like japanese, only directly translated and no errors in the spelling, but Google translate does some REALLY good translations, and it's only in the beta stages yet! (I hear they use manually translated EU-documents as their source material for statistical machine translation, it's quite fascinating...).

After reading through your blog I come to the conclusion that subterfuge is your only true ally when dealing with the administration of different schools (and you seem QUITE adept at it to boot!). Do you think a more brash approach would work at all (without being threatening of course)? Like refusing utterly meaningless requests and demand a logical explaination that does not involve
"Gaijin can't possibly understand." or "It's the japanese way.". (this is all assuming one can speak japanese fluently enough to explain the flaws in their logic to them).

Phew! Thanks for even bothering to READ this far! If you, for some reason or another, prefer to answer in private my email is

Best wishes!


Badaunt said...

Matt, I WILL get back to you, but right now I have to get some sleep. (This week I'm working on a proofreading job as well as teaching, so don't have much spare time, most of which I anyway fritter away writing silly blog posts.)

But to answer your first question (I THINK it was your first one:-) to get any sort of visa to teach English in Japan you have to have had eight (I think it is) years of education in English. IN English, not OF English. I had a friend who ended up leaving because although her Masters was from a British university and her English was as good as or better than most native speakers, she had not had the required number of years of education IN English.

But that was a few years ago. It might be worth checking the rules in that respect. It is perfectly obvious that your English is good enough to teach the language, but unfortunately that doesn't mean anything when it comes to visa qualifications. And you'd need a visa.

I'll have a go at your other questions when I have more time, but in the meantime, thank you for all that lovely flattery!

Mattias said...

Hi again!

Don't worry, get some sleep! =)

Hm, I'm not sure how I would go about proving I've had any education IN English. Most universites in Sweden don't even bother specifying if the course is in Swedish or English, and most of the time it's a complete mish-mash of English, Swedish and the teachers native language (course literature is always in english with few exceptions).

I've heard that you need a degree from a university to get a working visa, but it doesn't necessarily have to be relevant to what you're intending to work as.

What I've thought of doing was to find a job as an ass teacher (I remember all the IMPORTANT things you've written!) at a junior/senior highschool (that's 7th to 12th degree, right?). Preferably in the inaka, so I can survive on the 250k yen salary that seems to be the same wherever you work (big city = same salary and more expenses = avoid). I'd get some experience and, if I'm lucky, a decent reference. Then, if I wasn't too disillusioned by the gaijin-treatment, I'd look for a tenured position at a junior/senior highschool.

Or something similar. Not sure if I had a point in telling that... hm... ah well.

Good night!