Risala: The Arabic Learner’s Weblog

March 4, 2007

My First Open Letter. . . . . Al-Jazeera On Training Wheels!!!

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يا أُسْتاذٌ ,

This is my first post to this blog, and as such, I would like to dedicate this spcieal post to a subject I have become quite passionate about—the Arabic language;-) This first post is directed toward both Arabic learners and those teaching the subject….but especially the latter.

It is clear that university level Modern Standard Arabic courses are geared toward preparing students to acquire language proficiency such that they may “read the newspaper” and consume other news media resources. Thus the standand text (Al-Kitaab by Karen Brustad) strongly emphasizes such content as reading examples. Reading an Arabic newspaper is an arduous task (probably even for 3rd year Arabic students) however it is precisely doing this on a daily basis that allows a student to maintain his/her active recall of vocabulary and further his/her understanding of common grammatical structures.

Due to the difficulty of just “picking up an Arabic newspaper” both online or offline, many students are unable to partake in this vital part of language learning (routine exposure to the language in its native form).

Please read this to the end or stop here, because the key to this idea isn’t unlocked unti…..”happily ever after.”

Use Google Translate. This is NOT to say that Google Translate can be considered a reliable translation tool by any means. On the contrary, all “Machine Translation” is highly unreliable and often riddled with error. However, mostly what a student needs when reading something like a newspaper is just a rough idea of what is going on (i.e. a reference vocabulary). This will allow the student to start “soaking up” the grammar, content, and novel vocabulary words right away, without the need for constantly referring to a clumsy hardcopy dictionary ten times in a row for an overkill definition.

Thus, if a student goes to this page and adds the——> Arabic to English <——just drag browser button link [yes, the one the arrows are pointing at] to his/her browser favorites toolbar then s/he can press this button while at any online news source (i say news because there is no point in reading non-MSA for our purposes here), and the page will be automatically machine translated.

Al-Jazeera on Training Wheels
Here is the key! After translating a page (such as http://www.bbcarabic.com) with the “Browser Translate Button” the following happens:

Not only is the page Machine Translated but Google also provides a very unique and useful FEATURE: when a the mouse cursor hover’s over any block of translated text such as a short paragraph or a link…..Google automatically hilights the block of text in light blue AND THEN A LITTLE WINDOW POPS UP (Web 2.0/java/ajax that sort of thing) and VOILA!!! sitting right there before the students eyes is THE ORIGINAL ARABIC (pre-translation) THAT GOES WITH THE CORRESPONDING HILIGHTED PARAGRAPH!!!

This allows the student to use the Machine Translated garbled English as a REFERENCE POINT/psuedo-vocabulary list etc. while reading the paper.

I have tried it and it is amazing!!!

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3 Comments »

  1. wow this really is amazing! Thanks!

    ~Fellow learner

    Comment by phoneme — March 13, 2007 @ 2:20 am

  2. You can also do something similar using the Wordchamp web reader (http://www.wordchamp.com/lingua2/Reader.do)

    Instead of seeing the page translated, you’d see the original page (i.e. aljazeera in Arabic) and when the mouse cursor hovers over any word, something will pop up translating that word into your language of choice (i.e. English)

    Comment by Sofia — March 24, 2007 @ 11:08 am

  3. This whole website is amazing…just what I’ve been looking for. Shukran!

    Comment by David A — April 10, 2007 @ 3:52 pm


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