This year, while I was showing a short video resource on Confederation with my French Immersion class during a History period, my efforts to expose my students to a variety of different voices (not just mine and each others') was met with a certain... dubiousness.

"What?!? How are we supposed to understand THAT? They talk so fast!"
or in French, as far as they got was "Madame!!?!!  On ne comprend pas!  Peux-tu le passer en anglais?"

Since this was my first year of teaching FI, I really felt that I was doing the right thing, and yet I was seeing them struggle, so the video I had selected was part of a greater plan.  (I'll share that in another blog post... soon, I promise!  Check back if you're teaching Canadian history at the intermediate level for a good, free online resource!)

So, while we were watching displaying YouTube on the projector, a teachable moment occurred in my classroom.  A student called out "turn on the captions"! And my slightly shocked response was "Comment? Comment sais-tu qu'il y en a? Moi, je ne vois rien!"  So this fine young man stood up, walked over to the computer, and turned on Google's auto-captions for us. And a light bulb went on. And I thought "Well look at that!  Isn't technology WONDERFUL?" And then I tried to follow the captions. While some parts of the narration stood out a little more clearly with some vocabulary appearing at the bottom of the screen, other phrasings seemed ...awkward, at best. So I turned the captions back off and returned to my original goal, which was to have them practice listening.

But I tucked my new little nugget of information away for the future. How interesting that my students knew that this feature existed while I had no idea. It made me wonder how long it's been around and for what kind of things these L2 learners have been using it. Since then, I've turned on auto-captions a few times to check it out, but have decided this is NOT a tool I want my students to use.

Here's why. This video is a clip I linked to as a resource for a blended learning financial literacy lesson for elementary Core French.

This is a transcription of the first couple of sentences.

"Coucou les filles! Donc, viens pour faire une vidéo sur mes achats vêtements
et en même temps faire un bon plan pour vous faites...faire économiser quelques sous sous."

(Thanks to Eveline for filling in the one word I couldn't hear properly, along with my misheard "cher"!) Compare this to the auto-captions shown below of the same two sentences.

At about the one minute mark, she says "ceinture" and You-Tube's autocaptions state "femme" instead. Not even the same number of syllables, or similar initial or ending sounds. Hmm. OK, then.  Morale of the story... So I guess I really do need to learn a language if I want to understand it being spoken, right? Can't count on technology just yet to do our thinking for us.

Still not convinced? Check out this fun Spanish example... a Caillou episode, in Spanish, where the words of the theme song are already on the screen highlighted, and then auto captions works its "magic".

As a second language teacher, I'm secretly pleased that this tool is so ineffective! However, the intended usage - for those with auditory challenges - has a long way to go before this YouTube feature can be useful to anyone.

{Read this Scientific American article for further information, if you are interested.}

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