Do robots love language? Bias and Google Translate

Loving Language

Translate Tongan? You'll have to ask him--Google Translate can't help. Translate Tongan? You’ll have to ask him–Google Translate can’t help.

I tend not to follow the mainstream. I study languages that others don’t, and I’ll often gravitate towards marginal dialects when I can. When I speak Arabic, I try to throw in a little Moroccan when I can. Speaking Russian, I might add a little bit of a Ukrainian accent. Right now, I’m learning Swiss German, which I’m afraid will irritate my standard German-speaking friends.

Google Translate follows the mainstream. It is a tool developed by a savvy business filling a commercial need. People who have and spend money need an application to conduct their business more easily. I addressed the relative value of languages in an earlier post.

Unfortunately, Google Translate reflects the mainstream. It offers the languages of the powerful, and translates using the language of the status quo without respect for what is good…

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Do the Duolingo!

Have you tried Duolingo yet?  If not, go to,  or download the app on your device.  It’s free!  Take a few seconds to create an account, then choose the language you want to learn or practice, and give it a try!  There are many languages to choose from.



Duolingo is a language learning game that integrates speaking, listening, writing, and reading.  Try not to lose your hearts as you progress through a lesson.  Make it through the lesson with hearts to spare, and you will receive Lingolots! (Lingolots are jewels that you can turn in for special lessons.) Add friends to compete with them, or see their progress.

You even get your own coach to help keep you on track!

Your coach to help keep you on track.

I have played around with the free trial version of Rosetta Stone.  When I first tried Duolingo, it reminded me of the interface and activities from Rosetta Stone.  (That resemblance is based on my very limited experience with Rosetta Stone.)  You can start at the beginning with lesson one, or if you know some of a language already, you can test out of lessons and skills by taking a little assessment.

You can test out of skills or practice weak ones.

Test out of skills, or practice weak ones.

One of the newer features of Duolingo is Duolingo for Schools.  Using Duolingo for Schools, teachers can create classes to monitor students’ progress.  After creating a class, teachers can share a link with students which will add them to that class.  I was excited about this upgrade, and happy to see how well it worked.

After you have your students added, you can see their days active, lessons completed, etc.  You can sort by weeks or by classes.

After you have your students added, you can see their days active, lessons completed, etc. You can sort by weeks or by classes.

You can click on an individual student and see when they completed or practiced each lesson.  Here you can see that this student was working through the three preposition lessons on February 9.    The other lessons say "practice" because she had already completed those lessons.  She went back to practice and keep her strength bars full:)

You can click on an individual student and see when they completed or practiced each lesson.  You can see that this student was working through the three preposition lessons on February 9.  The other lessons say “practice” because she had already completed those lessons.  She went back to practice and keep her strength bars full:)

Why not download Duolingo to dabble a little in a new language?  Or practice one you already know?  Either way, I suggest you give it a try.  Do the Duolingo!

Note:  When choosing a language on Duolingo, you don’t have the option to choose the language to which you have your browser set.  My students had their browsers set to Spanish, and some ended up choosing “inglés” since Spanish wasn’t an option.  While they were still learning and practicing Spanish since all of the directions were in Spanish, they were in the “learn English mode.” 

When a Barbarian King is Relevant

barbarian king

While packing up my things to leave school today I spotted something I have hanging in the classroom. It’s a list of words a student learned from playing Clash of Clans in Spanish. I love this list. I was so excited last year when this student asked me if he could write the words he learned from playing Clash of Clans in Spanish and use it as a Real World Homework activity. (Thank you Creative Language Class for the RW homework idea! Go here for more info.)

This list reminds me of the importance of relevancy. It would’ve never crossed my mind to introduce students to the word Barbarian King or wizard tower. 🙂 But these words were relevant to the student and the success of his clan. They were also context embedded. Context is key and is what helped him understand so many meaningful and interesting words. Words which were probably far more interesting and meaningful than what I was introducing to him in class at that time. These words were crucial to helping him protect and grow his clan!

Clash of Clans is one of many games or apps that students could switch to another language. What do you or your students like to switch the language setting on to learn new words?

list of clash of clan words in Spanish and English

clash of clans is welcome

Proficiency Labels for the Wall

One of the most frequently used resources by me, students, parents, and other teachers last year in our classroom was made of painters’ tape and paper.  It was located on the wall and was always available as a visual when explaining proficiency levels, talking about student goals, or to help with a quick refresher of each level. I took the idea from The Creative Language Class and their post “Bring the rubric to LIFE!”  Go there for specifics.

levels descriptorsIt was helpful to remind students it was up there by saying something like, “Keep in mind what your goal (level) is and what that consists of.”  Then I would point up to the scale on the wall.

In case you want to put one of these up in your classroom and want to save a little time, click below to download the documents with the levels and descriptors that I typed up.  It might not save you hours, but it could save you a few minutes:)  They are available in the .pdf format to download and print off.  (I printed different levels and the descriptors on different colors of paper.) They also are available in the .docx format in case you want to edit them.

Click here to download the documents for free from my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

If you have trouble opening the files let me know in the comments!

proficiency scale in classroom fritz

Grade Translation for the Proficiency Based Classroom

I wish we didn’t have grades at our district.  But we do.  If you have to give grades based on a traditional grading scale, you STILL can do proficiency based grading.  What it means is that you have to utilize your creativity.

Here is some info about my district to help set up the calculations:

  • Our school’s grading scale is A = 93-100; A- = 90-92.99; B+ = 87-89.99; B = 83-86.99; B- = 80-82.99; and so on.
  • Report cards are issued to students every quarter (9 weeks).
  • GPA is based on semester grades only.
  • Semester final exams are required in our district, although students (w/ a limited number of absences/tardies) can waive them according to our policy.
  • Teachers have to give one letter grade to each student for each course at the end of each semester.

Info about how I graded:

(Note: Ideally I would report on each mode of communication for each student, not lump them together.  But I have to come up with a letter grade for each student because of our policy.  In the classroom, students never see or hear letter, %, or # grades, we speak and communicate performance using ACTFL proficiency levels.)

  • I put only summative assessments in the grade book and students could redo all assessments for full credit anytime during the semester.
  • These summative assessments were what calculated students’ running grade in the electronic grade book.
  • To calculate students’ final semester grades, I used an assessment in each mode of communication (interpretive, presentational, interpersonal).  These three assessments made up the required final exam.
  • The assessments used to make up the final exam were the same format as assessments used as summative assessments during the semester.
  • If a student was at a level in two of the three assessments, they received that level as their proficiency level.  (Example: Student gets a Novice Mid+, Novice High, & Novice High on the three assessments.  I would use Novice High for that student.)
  • If a student was split between three levels, I used the middle level. (Example:  Student gets a Novice Mid+, Novice High, & Novice High+ on the three assessments.  I would use Novice High for that student.)
  • Students’ semester grades were 99.9% (because the electronic grade book didn’t allow 100%) based on their final exam.
  • I entered their proficiency level gathered from the three assessments that made up their final, as their final exam grade.
First try at translating proficiency levels into letter grades for Spanish 1 semester one.

First try at translating proficiency levels into letter grades for Spanish 1 semester one.

Using the scale above, if a student in the first semester of Spanish 1 had a level of Novice Mid based on their final assessments, I would put an 85 in as their final exam score.  This would translate to a B on their report card for their semester grade, which would be meeting the semester goal.

After the first semester, I had to adjust the scale shown above for Spanish 1 for two reasons.  First, the goal changed from Novice Mid at the end of the first semester to Novice High at the end of the second semester.  This follows the Jefferson County Public Schools grading guidelines that I borrowed and utilized, which you can find here.  That being said, a Novice High would equal B in the second semester, while a Novice Mid equaled a B in the first semester.  The second reason I had to change my scale after the first semester was because I was informed by students that the pluses and minuses on the letter grades affect the number of points they get for their GPA.  My thought was that if a student was approaching the next proficiency level, they should get below that proficiency level.  I was thinking with proficiency levels as the scales of 10 in relation to the letter grades (90-100, 80-89, etc.).  But, since a 90 (A-) is different on the grade point scale than a 95 (A), I bumped up the approaching the next level to the next letter grade.

Revised scale for Spanish 1 semester one.

Revised scale for Spanish 1 semester one.

So…there is the math that I used to try to give a true snapshot of a students’ progress in a language course at the end of the semester.  Hopefully it made a little sense!


Proficiency Level Goals for World Language Classes

As I began researching and learning more about standards based learning, I discovered a lot of great resources on the Creative Language Class blog.  One of the most helpful in the initial stages of developing my “grading policy” was the level guide for world language courses from Jefferson County Public Schools.  They are extremely generous to share it!

Awesome idea taken from Creative Language Class.  I used painters' tape (it has a frog on the container) for the lines.

Awesome idea taken from Creative Language Class. I used painters’ tape (it has a frog on the container) for the lines.


This past year in the classroom I utilized these levels as the language “goals” for each semester of each course.  The goal for the end of Spanish 1 semester 1 was Novice Mid.  If, at the end of the semester, students were demonstrating proficiency at the goal in at least 2/3 modes of communication (interpretive, interpersonal, presentational) they received a B.  (To see how I calculated students’ grades, check out this post.)  This is counter to standards based expert Rick Wormeli’s philosophy, but in line with Robert Marzano’s.  Rick Wormeli believes that if a student is reaching the goal/meeting the standard, they should receive full credit, or an A (or a 4 or + or whatever that means in your district).  But, as I was learning about this and was trying to translate this proficiency based grading into our school’s traditional based grading policy, I felt that meeting the goal equaling a B makes more sense in the World Language classroom.

proficiency scale in classroom fritz

In Wisconsin, we use the Wisconsin Model Academic Standards for Foreign Languages.  The level descriptors aren’t the ones that ACTFL utilizes (Novice, Intermediate, Advanced, Superior), but they have similar categories.  Also, there aren’t grade level goals set by the standards for world languages in Wisconsin.  This is due to the variation of programs in schools throughout Wisconsin.  There is no requirement of foreign language for high school graduation in Wisconsin, unless implemented at at the district level.  Some schools have world language programs beginning in elementary, others don’t begin until high school.

Due to these variations, it is up to each district to determine to what level should a student strive to perform at the end of each world language course.  Instead of recreating the wheel, I read more about the Jefferson County Public Schools curriculum and grading policy, saw the research they had to back it up, and decided to use their grading guidelines for each course.

If you are more interested in learning about proficiency based grading in the world language classroom check out the Creative Language Class blog.  I have found their 5-step explanation regarding the “Proficiency Path” extremely helpful.  Click here to go to step 1.