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Language education-based translation
The win-win of cross-cultural cross-disciplinary collaboration
The short version
Language educators and students know the value of building multilingual bridges. And the power of the web hugely boosts the bridge building potential. Half a billion people will come online in the next 4 years, mostly from developing nations. Appropedia is a resource packed with valuable content that those people can use - if it is in their language. Language education can contribute to building a bridge while simultaneously expanding skills.
A recent remarkable collaboration initiated by two educators, German Professor Eleanor ter Horst and Physics Professor Joshua Pearce, both then at Clarion University, conceived of their project as a way to promote the power of interdisciplinary learning. After participating, one student said that “Working on Appropedia was an experience of a lifetime. The site increased my knowledge of sustainable development greatly and expanded my understanding of the German language. Everyone should get involved in this site.”
More details on the Clarion project can be found in the October 2008 issue of The Language Educator and the open access full text of a more recent article is in the Journal of Sustainable Development in Africa. Professors ter Horst and Pearce (now at Queens University in Kingston) also welcome inquiries on their project. The Appropedia Foundation is enthusiastically supports such projects, and invites comments and questions about how projects can be optimized for class-oriented translation projects. Leave a message on Curt Beckmann's talk page, or email Curt Beckmann.
The long version
Language educators and students have always been implicitly aware of the benefits of building bridges between diverse cultures. Often those benefits are the kind that turn up on the travel, cooking, business and style sections of our newspapers. More recently, front page headlines highlighting threats to our wellbeing are implicitly arguing for even more cross-cultural bridges. As climate change, energy security, terrorism, pandemics and food scarcity grab our attention, we are increasing conscious of the importance of addressing these issues through shared understanding. Our chances of success are far greater if we recognize these threats as shared challenges rather than taking an us-versus-them approach.
Meanwhile, as we notice how globalization has transformed our vast small choices into dramatic global impact, we wonder, what is the other side of that coin? Might we make minor changes in the way we work so that, in aggregate, we create a positive global impact while also improving our experience? A pair of professors at Clarion University have found a way to do exactly that: produce a positive impact on the world while improving the experience of language education for students.
As described in their article in the October 2008 issue of The Language Educator, German Professor Eleanor ter Horst and Physics Professor Joshua Pearce at Clarion University conceived their project as a way to promote the type of interdisciplinary learning that leading professional organizations advocate. They believe that the strikingly positive results for student learning obtained in this project will encourage other foreign language educators to adopt a similar interdisciplinary approach to teaching.
In their effort to connect the disciplines of Modern Languages and Physics, they undertook a pedagogical experiment working with a website, Appropedia (www.appropedia.org), which is devoted to global sustainable development and features environmentally friendly projects that can be built using local resources. Appropedia is wiki-based website, similar in structure to Wikipedia (www.wikipedia.org), where a large number of participants can create and modify the content directly from their web browsers. Despite its ambition to reach people throughout the world, however, Appropedia had very little content in languages other than English when they began the experiment. The students’ task was to expand the content in other languages. Initially, German was chosen to establish the foreign-language template because of the relatively advanced nature of Germany’s sustainability thinking and initiatives.
One student said while summarizing her experience with the project that “Working on Appropedia was an experience of a lifetime. The site increased my knowledge of sustainable development greatly and expanded my understanding of the German language. Everyone should get involved in this site.”
More details on the Clarion project can be found at The Language Educator and the open access full text of a more recent article is in the Journal of Sustainable Development in Africa. Professors ter Horst and Pearce (now at Queens University in Kingston) also welcome inquiries on their project. The Appropedia Foundation is very supportive of this kind of project, and welcomes comments and questions about how projects can be optimized for class-oriented translation projects.
- Eleanor ter Horst and Joshua M. Pearce, “Foreign Languages and the Environment: A Collaborative Instructional Project”, The Language Educator, pp. 52-56, October, 2008.
- Joshua M. Pearce and Eleanor ter Horst “Appropedia and Sustainable Development for Improved Service Learning”, Proceedings of Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education 2008 .
- Joshua M. Pearce and Eleanor ter Horst, “Overcoming Language Challenges of Open Source Appropriate Technology for Sustainable Development in Africa”, Journal of Sustainable Development in Africa, 11(3) pp.230-245, 2010. open access