A Brief Tale of a Principle that Lost Its Rationale

Photo by Gil Epshtein

Since I began giving homework online almost two years ago I have established an email connection with the students.

Homework must be handed in by email. In addition, some of the students write to me when they are absent, agonizing over a test or desperate to know whether I’ve checked their tests already.

I always answer in them in English.

In class we communicate in Hebrew and in Israeli Sign-Language. The students write to me in Hebrew. I know for a fact that they paste my replies into Google Translate and read them in Hebrew.

I still write to them in English.

A student recently asked me point blank if I was aware that everyone reads my letters using Google Translate. When I replied that I was, he wanted to know why I continued writing in English.

I replied that I am an English teacher.

I’m not sure that suffices as an educational rationale for doing something. I certainly can’t supply the students with an explanation for why this is beneficial for them.

I still think it is the right thing to do.

5 thoughts on “A Brief Tale of a Principle that Lost Its Rationale”

  1. Maybe one day some of them will be too lazy to go to Google Translate, and then the English will have a point! It also means they are seeing the English letters and structure, even if they aren’t reading it attentively.
    Don’t give up!

  2. Hi Naomi

    I think it is too. E-mailing, letter writing etc are all everyday social practices and its through such practices that we learn languages. I’d argue that even using Google translate is helping them, they’ll be noticing more and more e-mail genre, forumlaic expressions and this will be helping them to learn. So don’t lose faith.

    Best wishes

  3. Hi again Naomi

    This is a question that is unrelated to your post. Today I was in my local library and the person next to me was trying to use Skype. She was having trouble with the set up and asked me for help. It turned out she was deaf and the problem was that her web cam wasn’t working. So she could see her friend but not the other way round. She was getting very frustrated with it. Anyway she was clearly using a combination of texting, video with sign language – I was really intrigued by this because I hadn’t really considered the opportunities that skype enables deaf people. I was wondering if you had used skype in your language teaching, or considered it. And whether your learners use Skype in their everyday communication.

    Best wishes

  4. Hi Naomi,

    I think you are doing the right thing too. As Richard says, noticing is important and therefore text exposure is crucial. I also think that you are setting the example to your learners that you want them to use English as much as possible, and that you won’t let up on that, even if they will! Keep at it, they will appreciate it in the end. Also, maybe they don’t let on to the fact that actually, they have a little look/read before they jump to Google.


  5. Thank you all, Sandy, Richard and Jemma!
    Thank you for being encouraging and reminding me that little things can add up. Being on vacation this week yet corresponding with a few of the sweetest, most serious students, I had time to ponder on the nature of our correspondence. I like to be able to explain why I do things…
    Richard, regarding Skype and deaf people. ALL my students have a webcam, though not necessarily for skype. A large percentage of them have 3G phones where they can see the speaker. I’m always worried that one of them will fall down the stairs as they walk and sign into the phone.
    I haven’t yet used skype for class as my classroom computer was only hooked up to the Internet this year. I have heard that in the States they use more sophisticated things than skype for education as sometimes the quality of the connection can interfere with “reading” the signs.
    Glad you are interested!

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