Multilingual Computer Programs Help Build Multicultural Learning Experiences

Multilingual web- and computer-based services are easing the job of educators who work with children (and parents) with limited English speaking skills. With approximately half of the U.S. population expected to be Hispanics, non-Hispanic blacks, Asians, and Native Americans by 2050, schools must continue to improve their ability to work with linguistically diverse communities.

Translation services are the most common resource used today. Transparent Language has a program, called Free Translation, that provides text and web page translation from English to Spanish, French, German, Italian, and Portuguese. It also translates from Spanish, French, and German to English.

Alta Vista’s Babelfish program can translate entire web pages or inputted text. Both of these services are free.

However, in some sense, you get what you pay for. Neither Babelfish nor Free Translation will translate more than about six paragraphs of text per translation, making longer projects time-consuming and cumbersome. And, as would be expected, the translations do not capture subtle linguistic matters, but really serve as general translations.

For students working to translate on their own, has created a very good instantaneous dictionary that translates English to Spanish, French, German, Japanese, Italian, Hebrew, Portuguese, or Dutch. This program, downloadable free, offers the attractive ability to work on the web, eMail, and also offline with word processing programs, spreadsheets, etc.

In addition to translation services, multilingual programs also offer some less-obvious benefits. For example, several programs can translate important parental forms—such as school registration or free-lunch program information—into other languages. Or web-based search engines can search in more than a dozen languages, aiding in student research about other cultures.

Multilingual programs also can help students in one country “meet” online students from other countries—such as European Schoolnet has been doing for European teachers for several years. A fledgling program that does involve U.S. teachers directly is called the International Education and Resource Network (I*EARN). This program, which operates in 29 languages, tries to engage students in cultural exchange through projects, stories, and games.

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