You will NOT use Google Translate (but you will use an online dictionary)

Recently, our students were to complete a project that revolved around a Latin American dish of their choice, its recipe, cultural significance, with the objective being that students could successfully give affirmative informal commands.  Ultimately, the recipe had to be taken from English and translated into a relatable manner that showed that it was their work and not the work of a copy paste skewering through Google Translate.  They were also responsible for videoing a demonstration of their recipe and saying the commands once they’d written their translation and scripts.

I will not argue that Google Translate serves a purpose, but its purpose is not in the foreign language classroom.  So, the challenge was how could my colleagues and I come up with a way that would allow them to branch out and use new vocabulary while being held accountable for doing the work and not overwhelming them?

Here are a few ways that we were able to overcome it.

Break it down piece by piece

I started off by letting them choose a recipe.

They then had to break it down into four different charts with the English word in one column and the Spanish word in the other for the following components:

  1. the ingredients – name only such as “tomato”
  2. portions – 1/2, 1/4, etc.
  3. cooking utensils – knife, bowl, frying pan
  4. verbs/commands – add, fry, bake, cut

My students already had a broad set of vocabulary words that had been given to them.  The words that appeared in their recipe were ones they could look up either on SpanishDict.com or Word Reference.  All other verbiage in their recipes wasn’t addressed at this point.

Once they had just their ingredients listed, I walked them through a review of adjectives and gave them a very informal lesson on present participles (canned, diced, fried, etc.) to allow them to successfully and completely describe their ingredients.

They got a lesson in learning how to use an English-Spanish dictionary

Using a dictionary is a lost art among high schoolers, and using an English-Spanish dictionary is no exception.  Through this exercise where they were allowed to use the above websites, they still struggled as they wanted to select the very first word that popped up regardless of whether or not the part of speech or denotation was correct.

For example, when using ground cinnamon, I got a few “canela del suelo” translations, which means cinnamon from the  floor/ground instead of pulverized cinnamon.  This provided a valuable opportunity to get the students to look into the meaning they were actually trying to convey from the words.

They learned how to simplify

For a second year student, translating a recipe beyond “add onion” and “stir for 5 minutes” can be a recipe for disaster.  Many recipes go into some superfluous detail that goes way beyond the expected proficiency level of a non Pre-AP student.  There is a lot of subjunctive that occurs, and that isn’t even taught until the third year.

I gave kids instruction on how to greatly pare down their recipe with a constant reminder to keep it to what they know.  There is a tendency to want to translate word-for-word, which is impossible from one language to another.  They give up, give in, and then the exercise loses its efficacy.  Simplification is key, and teaching them to simplify is valuable in and of itself.

They were impressed by their final product and how “easy” it was

By the end of the assignment, the students had done all the legwork.  All they had to do was piece it together, much like a puzzle.  Their recipes and scripts came together nicely, especially after being provided with a few sentence starters.   After working through all the steps, they had the following components already done:

  • the ingredient names with their adjectives and/or present participles
  • the amount of each ingredient
  • the list of their cooking utensils
  • all of their verbs in informal command form listed in sequential order of use within the steps of the recipe

Their final translations were impressive and didn’t reek of extraneous vocabulary or grammar tenses that are foreign to a majority of my students.

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