I can not wait to use Skype translator in my classroom. It will allow my students to communicate with other students across the world. But this is not what has me excited. What I am keen to try is using Skype within my classroom.
Let me explain.
My school has the highest intake of refugee students in the state. Many will just arrive in the classroom with no notice and no English. More than half will have signifiable trauma issues and all will have varying levels of prior education. Many will have spent years in refugee camps or will have been displaced within their own country for years, fleeing persecution or internal conflict. Currently we have over 80 different nationalities represented on campus but that number fluctuates.
Assuming that the child starts with the same level of education as their Australian peers, it is expected that these new arrivals will take about 7 years to get back to the same point as their cohort because of language. If their trauma involved in their past then this ‘catch up time’ will increase significantly. Imagine how we could close the gap if I could explain scientific concepts in their native language. Skype Translator would allow me answer questions, explain tasks and generally communicate with students with whom I have only be able to hold single word conversations. No longer would I be pointing to a picture of a cell and then writing the word, pointing to it, saying as clearly as I can CELL. and then getting the student to copy a picture. No explanations of structure, function or even location. With Skype translator I will be able to ask them, in almost real time, about what they already know. I could pitch tasks at their level. Use a proper constructivist approach to build on their prior knowledge and then give them proper, relevant feedback rather than holding a thumb up and saying ‘good’ (I have to be careful of even this for in some cultures the thumbs up sign is rude).
Team up Skype translator with Bing translator and OneNote and I will have everything covered. On a pastoral level it will allow us to check in with students to determine how they are coping. Are they experiencing any issues or do they have any questions? In the past we have discovered, quite by accident, that students are having simple issues that they could not communicate. Simple things like how much food costs at the canteen or what time the bus leaves were taking a long time to be asked, deciphered and then answered and again understood by the students. Skype translator will help students communicate their needs and wants in a way that we were only able to get by using a very expensive translator service in the past.
To start with we know there are going to be limitations. Skype are starting with Arabic, Chinese (Cantonese), Chinese (Mandarin), English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish. Most of our students come from Africa and Asia so many of the languages that they speak are not yet covered but Skype plan on quickly expanding this to over 40 different languages. Logistics such as headsets will need to acquired and I would love to allow all the students to communicate as a class in discussions so speakers will need to be connected. The spinoffs for our international students are incredible and I can not wait to try out this amazing technology within in my classroom to allow a more equitable access for all of my students within the classroom.