Games, games and more games I

For the past few years, I’ve been making an effort to incorporate games into my translation courses: last term, I asked my Theory of Translation Students to try making their own games, which we played in conjunction with a Reacting-to-the-Past-inspired game related to the drafting of CAN/CGSB-131.10-2008, the Canadian Standard for Translation.

So this year, I wanted to see whether I could create games for some of the other classes I teach, and I started off with my introductory translation into English course, where students are expected to acquire translation strategies, increase their knowledge of research tools and learn how to resolve translation problems. With these aims in mind, I created a series of 10 games, and we played a different one almost every week of the course. Most took somewhere between 25 and 45 minutes to complete. Each had different rules and aimed to develop a different combination of translation skills: In some games, students competed in teams, while in others they worked individually; sometimes, students competed against one another, but in other cases, they competed against an external foe (such as a published translation). Some games were designed to develop documentation skills (e.g. learning to use online tools and reference materials), some aimed to help students improve their ability to work under pressure, and quite a few focused on specific translation challenges (e.g. wordplay) or specific types of texts (e.g. comics).

After the course was over, I surveyed my students to see what they thought of the games (and the leaderboard where everyone could see their progress). I’ll be talking about the games and the survey results later this month at the CATS conference in Calgary, and then in July at the PACTE conference in Barcelona. I try not to repeat in my blog things that I’ve already said at conferences or in publications, so this post won’t cover the survey results. Instead, I wanted to write two complementary blog posts: one that talks about the game students enjoyed the most, and another that discusses the game they enjoyed the least. Today, I’m starting off with the game most students identified as their favourite.

The Twitter Race

Four weeks into our twelve-week course, we played a game I called “The Twitter Race.” Before we began, I reviewed some of Twitter’s conventions and constraints, just in case students weren’t familiar with the platform (e.g. tweets must be 140 characters or less, URLs and images are included in the character count but require a maximum of 23 characters, hashtags are commonly included in tweets). I also showed a few examples of translated tweets from bilingual organizations like the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages. Students then had to break up into groups or partners, since not everyone in the class brings a laptop and this activity required access to a shared Google Document. Each team chose a Twitter handle (e.g. @GoTeam1), and then worked together over six rounds to translate a total of six tweets. I used PowerPoint slides to project each tweet to the class and describe the context in which it was being translated:

Sample Twitter Race instruction

For each tweet, the teams had a few minutes to collaborate and then add their translations to a shared Google Document (signing their submissions with their twitter handles so we could tell which team was responsible for which translation). Once all the translations were submitted, I gave feedback on each version and awarded points in the following way:

Requirement Points
First to submit a complete translation 1 point
Shortest translation 2 points
Translation includes a relevant hashtag (e.g. #onpoli) 1 point per hashtag
Translation includes a relevant Twitter handle

(e.g. @radioCanadaInfo)

1 point per handle

I updated a Google Speadsheet with the points after every round and posted the results to the course website so the teams could see where they stood. At the end of six rounds, the team with the most points was declared the winner. A lot of strategizing took place: one team, for instance, was less interested in being the first to get their translations in because they wanted to have the shortest version and as many hashtags and twitter handles as possible. They ended up accumulating 33 points and winning the game.

Why did this game work well? Although the students who responded to the survey didn’t comment on why they liked the game, their comments on how the games could be improved in the future (more on that in my next post) have led me to some of my own conclusions. First, this game took about an hour and a half to play (including the time for establishing groups, going over the rules, etc.), but each of the tweets we translated presented a different challenge: some were almost 140 characters long and would therefore be harder to keep under the character limit; some had several hashtags or twitter handles that might need to be adapted; some were supposedly being translated by the same person who had posted the original tweet, while others were supposedly being retweeted by another user for a different purpose, etc. This meant that students had to adopt different translation strategies each round. Second, the students had to work under low-stakes pressure: each group was conscious that another group might post their translation first (and therefore win 1 point), but they also wanted to make sure they had a short translation and relevant hashtags, so they were constantly trying to translate quickly and succinctly. The stakes were low, though, because the students’ performance in the games was extremely unlikely to affect their final grade in the course since 90% of the course grade was based on assignments and tests, and the 10% set aside for in-class participation was based largely on attendance and homework rather than performance in the games. Finally, we were able to spend about 15 minutes setting up the game–that is, going over the rules, reviewing the context in which tweets might be translated, and thinking about the constraints Twitter users work with. This helped students feel more comfortable with the game before it started.

In my next post, which I hope to be able to write later this month, I’ll talk about one of the less successful games and why it didn’t work as well as this one.

One thought on “Games, games and more games I

  1. Julie, very interesting. Do you teach your students to implement localization tools? If yes, what kind of tools?
    As a rule, educational instituations do not give much attention to the translation and localization tools. And students have to struggle on their own after graduation.
    This is amazing what you do with your students!

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