Measuring the Impact of Online Translation on FL Writing Scores

  • Errol M. O'Neill


Online translation (OT) sites, which automatically convert text from one language to another, have been around for nearly 20 years. While foreign language students and teachers have long been aware of their existence, and debates about the accuracy and usefulness of OT are well known, surprisingly little research has been done to analyze the actual effects of online translator usage on student writing. The current study compares the scores of two composition tasks by third- and fourth-semester university students of French who used an online translator, with or without prior training, to the scores of students who did not use OT. Students using an online translator did not perform significantly worse those not using the translator on either task. In fact, students who received prior training in OT outscored the control group overall on the second writing task. Additionally, students using the online translator received higher subscores on one or both writing tasks for features such as comprehensibility, spelling, content, and grammar. The results of the current study are discussed in detail; implications for the foreign language classroom are presented; and avenues for future research are proposed.