Not all who wander are lost in translation.

I’m sorry, but that is clearly a butterfly. I think?

Many times when editing a student’s paper fixing a problem with grammar could be solved by autocorrect. Things such as fixing a misspelled word, inserting punctuation, or having them simply remove unneeded words are normal procedures when correcting a native English speaker’s writing. However with an English Language Learner the proper way to correct a translation issue is not always as simple. Some factors that must be kept in mind that could lead to these translation issues are explained by Aiwei Shi.

“The translator must accommodate to target linguistic conventions so that the translated piece reads smoothly, if not pleasantly.” (Shi)

               We can see that a butterfly is not a pigeon, but what if a student read that a pigeon is a small creature that flies and is plentiful. Wouldn’t a butterfly be considered a pigeon then? We know the rules that separate bugs and animals, but what if somebody missed that lesson?

ELL students do not always have the same background knowledge of our own language. Thanks to this they may attempt to use their own native language to fill in any convention gaps they have. Because of this they will begin to build text using English words but using their native structure. If the native structure doesn’t have the same rules you may just wind up with a pigeon.

“Further, the translator must accommodate to target culture so the translated piece is culturally acceptable.” (Shi)

               This kind of error that while not as prevalent should still be kept in mind. While those that grew up in America know not to call certain people certain things those looking up words in a thesaurus or using an international dictionary probably won’t get the memo.

Sometimes the student may be doing the error on purpose as a form of comedy or reference when it is not appropriate to the task at hand. They may be trying to write an email to a boss and use the sort of humor that is common in their native tongue, but is unacceptable to English standards. In this case one must correct the cultural issue rather than circle the text in red ink and expect it to be fixed.

Notice one word though that is similar in both quotes though? Accommodate. This does not mean straight up change. I think that an ELL student should embrace the influence of their own native tongue when writing where appropriate. On top of this the teacher who is attempting to translate their “bad” English must accommodate the student’s own background to fit the lesson. While this would entail a great deal more work for the teacher they must get some basic knowledge of the student’s culture to better help them learn. After all, can you tell by just the picture alone whether it is a typo, a joke, a mistranslation, or just somebody being way too tired to be trusted with a keyboard? Who knows, maybe the pigeon is just offscreen.

Works cited:

(1991) The Brave Fighter of Sun Fighbird.

Shi, Aiwei. Causes of Failure in Translation and Strategies. Retrieved from