Analyzing the Benefit of Real-time Digital Language Translation for ESL Learners in Post-Secondary Canadian Virtual Classrooms


Canadian colleges and universities have seen a steady increase in enrolment over the past decade, driven mostly by interest from international students. If any of these students experience a language barrier this would pose a significant threat to classroom equity. This qualitative research study sought to understand how real-time digital language translation technology could bridge that language barrier. Professors’ lectures were translated, in real-time, into students’ first languages utilizing the Microsoft Translator app. Participants were post-secondary ESL students enrolled in either the Business or Hospitality Programs at George Brown College in Toronto, Canada (n=70). Data were collected in three stages, using open-ended surveys in the first and second and semi-structured interviews in the third. Data were then analyzed using thematic analyses. The technology does not only translate language it also provides English subtitles; findings suggest this combination of translation and subtitles can improve ESL students’ learning experiences. Students generally thought Microsoft Translator was easy to use and accurate in actual translation compared to competing translation software. The challenges identified included i) the reliability of internet connectivity ii) some professors’ inability to adapt and support the technology and iii) the technology’s inability to reliably recognize context. Based on these findings, if professors learn to integrate this technology into their lectures, then, at the least, students have an optional free resource at their disposal; at the most, this technology could positively affect academic integrity and classroom equity.

Author Information
Jordan Shuler, George Brown College, Canada

Paper Information
Conference: BCE2021
Stream: Design

This paper is part of the BCE2021 Conference Proceedings (View)
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon