What is it?
Out of the many free language translation apps available for iOS devices, TransFire by TNT Creations is a step ahead of the rest. I have tested several of these apps recently including iTranslate by White-Tape and Google Translate (both of which topped my preferred list until I tried TransFire), and I've now deleted them from my home screen and fully committed to TransFire. It does all the things the others do, but frankly, it looks better doing them. And, there are additional features that set this app apart from the others such as it's sleek UI, social networking capabilities, and (are you ready for this?) its ability to translate during live chat. Yes, two people speaking different languages can chat live using Google Chat accounts from within the app. Very cool.
TransFire currently translates over 50 languages, and it does so with pretty impressive accuracy. I tested it out with my brother-in-law who speaks Latvian, and with a few of my Spanish-speaking co-workers. All were amazed.
Interpreting Translated Text, Inference, Context Clues, Literal vs. Figurative Language: I must give credit where credit is due here. . . my students are the ones who initially shared with me the magic of using an online translator during reading. While reading the Goodrich & Hackett Pulitzer Prize winning dramatization of Anne Frank's diary in class together, we would occasionally come across passages that were written in Hebrew or German. Like a good reading teacher, I would stop and ask them to infer the meaning of the foreign text. This was a nice inference lesson and all, and it worked just fine for my first couple of class periods, but then came my über precocious fourth period. Right away a student raised her hand and suggested, "Why not put this into Google Translate? We could even listen to how it sounds!" We did, and boy did they love the big moment when the text's true meaning was revealed after having first played around with inferring its meaning based on context clues. As a bonus for me, an excellent unintended teachable moment arose during the translations—a discussion about literal and figurative language. When the literal translations produced by Google didn't quite make sense, we discussed the reasons behind this and also went back to having to make some inferences. Good stuff. Of course, this scenario involved Google Translate, not TransFire, but since then I have done my research and found TransFire to be superior. From now on, TransFire will be what we use in class.
Word Choice, Idiomatic Language, Poetry, Evaluating Quality of Translated Text: When reading a work literature that has been translated from its original language, students compare and contrast the original text with the translated one. They enter phrases from both versions into TransFire to reveal literal meaning and compare it with the words chosen by the translator. Then, in the form of a critical essay or during class discussion, students evaluate the validity and accuracy of the translation, suggesting improvements along the way and supporting their assertions with textual evidence.
International "ePals", Letter Writing, Research: Ok, this is one activity in which TransFire would out-perform its competition. The teacher would coordinate a digital learning exchange with a teacher and students from another country. The purpose could be for researching cultures or finding commonalities or whatever other creative purpose a teacher might have. Students communicate in live chat via TransFire (using in-app Google chat capabilities) with students speaking other languages. Naturally, time zones would have to be taken into account, but this could be an eye-opening experience for all involved, showing all how "flat" today's world truly is. Careful attention would be given to tone, word choice, cultural differences, etc. This project would serve as a great means of improving the students' interpersonal skills.
Teacher Tips: Encourage the students to check out your school's databases (or Google Scholar) for articles and essays that critically analyze literature translations. If your school reads Elie Wisel's Night, there's an interesting article in the January 19, 2006 NYT that touches on the controversy of its latest translation. It may serve as a nice discussion starter.
Double shot for teacher ease and student enjoyment.