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The effect of online translators on L2 writing in French

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Title: The effect of online translators on L2 writing in French
Author(s): O'Neill, Errol
Director of Research: Sadler, Randall W.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s): Kibbee, Douglas A.
Doctoral Committee Member(s): Sadler, Randall W.; Mall, Laurence; Sturm, Jessica L.
Department / Program: French
Discipline: French
Degree Granting Institution: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Degree: Ph.D.
Genre: Dissertation
Subject(s): online translation (OT) online translators second language (L2) writing machine translation Web-based machine translation translator training online translation (OT) training raters rating Second Language Acquisition (SLA) Second Language Acquisition and Teacher Education (SLATE) pedagogy French
Abstract: Online translation (OT) sites such as Free Translation and Babel Fish are freely available to the general public and purport to convert inputted text, from single words to entire paragraphs, instantly from one language to another. Discussion in the literature about OT for second-language (L2) acquisition has generally focused either on the pedagogical and ethical issues surrounding online translators or on anecdotal discussions of errors researchers have encountered on such tools. This dissertation takes a different approach by investigating the quantative and qualitative effects of OT use on L2 composition writing. A study conducted among 32 third- and fourth-semester L2 French students compared the results of three conditions: participants who were allowed to use an online translator for writing tasks after attending a training session on OT (+translator, +training); participants who were permitted to use OT for their writing, but who had received no prior training (+translator, -training); and a control group whose participants had no training and were not allowed to use OT (-translator, -training). Each of the 128 compositions collected was scored by raters and evaluated on six features: overall comprehensibility, content, spelling, syntax, remaining grammar, and vocabulary. Additionally, raters were asked to judge whether or not, in their estimation, each composition’s writer had used an online translator. The results showed that not only did OT use not have a negative effect on the mean scores of those who used a translator during the study, but the online translator groups performed as well as, if not better than, the control group on the experimental writing tasks both overall and on specific linguistic features. Specifically, the global scores of the translation group that had received training (+translator +training) were in fact statistically significantly higher (p < 0.05) on the second of two experimental writing tasks as compared to the control group (-translator -training). Additionally, on Tasks One and Two, one or both translator groups significantly outperformed the control group on four of the six components evaluated (overall comprehensibility, content, spelling, and remaining grammar). Raters were able to identify correctly, to a statistically-significant level, whether or not online translation was used for compositions; there were however cases where one or both raters scoring a given composition mistakenly suspected OT use, as well as some OT-aided compositions that escaped detection by raters. This dissertation analyzes global and component scores of compositions written with the use of an online translator and those written without such aid; presents and discusses samples of student writing in light of rater comments and participant self-reports; and explores the implications of the study’s results for L2 learning and instruction.
Issue Date: 2012-09-18
Rights Information: © 2012 Errol Marinus O'Neill
Date Available in IDEALS: 2012-09-18
Date Deposited: 2012-08

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