Cartoon Culture: Part 2

Listening with new ears

Say what? The problem with translation

Perhaps it’s my academic background, looking to analyze seemingly normal situations to find the hidden meaning, but I was struck by a cartoon episode I saw the other day involving a bilingual unicorn/dog couple and their friends.  Lady Rainicorn, the Korean-speaking unicorn on Adventure Time, was conversing with her doggie husband, Jake, when Jake realized that he was the only one who understood her.  He divided his time between her and his friends, but they did not all hang out together.  Jake realized that it would be better if his friends could understand Lady Rainicorn’s language, so he found a ‘universal translator’ that enabled her words to be translated into English. The only problem was, instead of hearing her speech in her own high, sweet girl voice, the collar can only translate her words into three voices called ‘nightmare’, ‘old man’, or ‘nerdy alien’, with the old man setting being the only one that everyone could understand.  See a 90-second clip of this episode here. While Jake’s friend was glad to understand the unicorn now, Jake is unsettled because her translated voice doesn’t really represent who she is.

More than words

Translation programs have been around for a long time, and are becoming more sophisticated as technology improves, much to the dismay of language teachers!  However, as Jake notes, there are certain aspects of conversation that do not translate well or do not accurately represent what is being said.  It may be that a single word in one language has many specific variations in another language, such as the oft-quoted theory that Inuit groups have dozens of words for ‘snow.’  Similarly, in Mandarin Chinese, you cannot speak of family as ‘sister’ or ‘uncle’ without specifying if the sister is older or younger, or the uncle is from the mother’s or father’s side, by marriage or by birth.  These language complexities give a lot of insight into the culture of a particular group and without a good understanding of the cultural context, we may miss out on a lot of meaning through simple ‘translation.’  In fact, a recent study shows that language is related to our cultural behaviors: we may be more inclined to save money or find our way in unfamiliar places based on what language we speak.

When thinking about learning a new language, consider the pros and cons of a simple translation tool–are you in a desperate situation that needs quick communication to resolve a problem? Then break out Google Translate and see if it helps.  But if you’re planning on traveling to learn about a culture or getting to know a new international neighbor, take the time to learn about the language and its insights into culture.  You’ll be speaking in your own voice and connecting on a deeper level with your conversation partner!


Get organized with Symbaloo

Bookmarks for the web

We all have our favorite web pages for news, blogs, social media and more.  If you are interested in language and culture, you might have some favorites as well such as on-line dictionaries or travel tips or photo sites that keep you inspired and help you learn. Symbaloo is a great way to keep track of your resources in a visual bookmarking format rather than just a listing of sites on your browser’s ‘favorites’ tab.  One of the advantages of Symbaloo’s free site is the ability to color code  your links to create visual categories of many topics in one simple page.

Color-coded simplicity

For example, imagine that you want to learn Italian in your family.  You have searched many websites and identified certain ones that provide cultural or historical information about Italy.  In Symbaloo, you can create a tile for each site and ‘label’ it as a color, let’s say blue.  You have also found some sites that are more appropriate for children that help review Italian words or provide age-appropriate on-line learning games.  These can be grouped together as green, for example, to help you identify them more easily.  Finally, perhaps you are planning a trip to Italy next, and are researching certain hotels, tours, or city maps to plan your adventure.  Each of these sites can be grouped and color-coded as well so you don’t have to keep searching for those bits of scrap paper where you wrote the webpage’s 57-character url…..

Language and culture at your fingertips

If you have an interest in multiple cultures and languages, you can arrange your Symbaloo page by culture.  For an example of this, visit Explor-A-World’s webmix.  Once you create your own webpage mix, you can share it with others.  Make your language adventure a family affair!  Share the same web resources with grandparents, cousins or far-flung family and friends.  Create a section on your Symbaloo page for Skype, Facebook, or your own family blog to stay connected and share your language learning experience with distant family.

Once your Symbaloo mix is created and shared, you can notify users when you add a new tile or resource. Sign up for a free account today and get your webpages organized!

If you have a language- or culture-related webmix, share it in the comments section below!

Language Learning with Technology: Survey results are in!

What technology do language teachers use?

Technology has become an integral part of our life–from cell phones and apps, to tablets and video calls.  In an effort to reach out to “digital natives,” many educators were looking for ways to connect with students using technology.  However, when it comes to younger kids, the reviews are mixed as to whether technology can be used effectively to achieve educational goals.

I have read a lot about how language learning technology can help enhance the student experience, particularly for middle and high school aged children.  But I was curious about attitudes among both teachers and parents regarding the use of language learning technology for younger kids, ages 5-11.  Here are the results of an informal survey I distributed this fall.  Although the sample size is small (approx. 65 teacher respondents), their answers can provide a jumping off point for more discussions about how, when, and if language learning technology has a place in the elementary school classroom!

Digital Learning Trends

  • Over 93% of teachers reported using some kind of digital tools in their elementary language classrooms.
  • The most commonly used tools cited by teachers were YouTube videos (95%), PowerPoint presentations (86%) and websites for cultural information (75%).  The least used technologies were social media (6%) and Skype (14%).
  • Among the greatest benefits cited by teachers to technology use were: the ability to engage “digital natives” with tools that are familiar to them, and the ability to diversify lessons with multimedia tools and outside resources.


  • If language-learning apps or games were readily available, about half of the respondents thought they would use them regularly for review or at-home practice.  About one quarter felt that games could be used on a daily basis in class.
  • Teachers overwhelmingly felt that any language-learning game would need to fit within the existing curriculum (75%), citing a desire to use technology as a supporting tool to achieve learning goals.

Obstacles to Technology Use

  • While most teachers felt that their schools supported technology use overall, many cited the fact that such resources are often allotted to core courses and not to language courses.  Lack of consistent access to technology was a limitation for many respondents.
  • Another common theme was a hesitation to use technology when “face-time” with students is limited (35%). Many elementary programs meet weekly or bi-weekly and want to use their classroom time primarily for personal interaction.

These thoughtful responses can help us develop a framework for technology use that makes the most sense for young learners.  As more and more children become capable of using technology in their everyday lives, educators can work to develop appropriate applications that will facilitate student learning. What do YOU think? Leave us a comment and share your thoughts on technology use in elementary school language learning classrooms.

Next Week: What Parents Think of Technology Use