It's that time of year again....
Every August, the Thai head of English thrusts a fistful of about two-hundred essays that all the prathom six kids have written about their mums. My job is to pick out the best three of them. These will be read aloud at some of the Mother's Day ceremonies we have at our school over the next few days.
I do this every year and it's really easy. The first thing I do is discard all the ones that were run through ‘Google Translate'. This is almost all of them, so I'm then left with about half a dozen from which to choose the best three.
I have no idea who the authors are as I don't know any of their full Thai names, but this year was very interesting. There was one particular stand out. The winning entrant contained mostly awful English but it was the English that he knew and it had obviously not been translated from Thai by a computer. It was also a genuinely open-hearted love letter to his mum that moved me.
So, I took the essays back to the head English teacher with my nominations (and corrections) and she said: "Are you sure?" In fact, she questioned me closely over and over and wanted to know if I would consider re-thinking this decision.
I learned my lesson.
Well, a few years ago, the first time I was given this dubious duty of adjudication, someone changed my decisions and the students that I thought were most deserving of the best essay award weren't the same students that were invited to the podium to read their work in front of the whole school.
That pissed me off and I learned my lesson. Now, each year, I go to the classes directly, identify the winners and we all have a big round of applause so the results can't be changed later in favor of more, er... 'deserving' kids.
Hey, if you don't want my opinion, don't ask me, right? I'm quite happy to be left out of the process if my input doesn't mean anything.
But this year was a real shocker, even to me. It turned out that the 'winner' was a lad who had been traditionally regarded as a 'slow learner' and was also a bit of a class clown. But of all the essays that weren't proof-read by Google, his was easily the best and I confess I took a guilty pleasure in seeing the faces of all the other kids in the classroom (especially the girls) who were visibly displeased that he'd risen to the top of the heap and won top honors.
Every year I make it very clear to the students and teachers that anything run through a translator won't be considered but this never stops them from doing it anyway. That's fine by me. It saves me hours of reading the essays!
Actually, I was tempted to throw in a few of the bizarre translations into this article just for the comedy of it, but you've probably seen thousands of similar English language comedies of your own.
Just roll with it.
I don't mind the cheating. It makes no difference to me how the students want to present themselves and their work. It certainly has no impact on what and how I teach. I feel a bit put out when they swear on a stack of voodoo dolls that their essays really are original and all their own work... then when I ask them what one of the translated words mean, of course, they don't know.
At the end of November, I'll get another two hundred essays to look at. This time, they'll be about dads. (Father's Day is on December 5th.) Most of them will be parsed through that great educator in the cloud, Google Translate.
If I'm lucky, someone will submit an interesting and heartfelt essay using only the English they know. If they do, that student will win the essay competition. If I'm really lucky the head of English will just stop asking me to judge these fraudulent testaments to a corrupt educational system.
In the meantime, I go to banging my head against the wall! ;)