Idea for an enhanced learning tool
I have an idea for an additional learning tool. What I have in mind is for those who have built some level of vocabulary and grammar skill, but need to hone their dialogue skills. A lot of my learning has been one word at a time, which is fine, but I think that this method would help people learn common phrases while thinking in paragraphs. What I envision is to have multiple dialogues written in English, with a place for members to write their translation. An "answer" button could provide the accurate translation for comparison.
I think this would give people the opportunity to think in terms of simple conversational Spanish (when live contact is not possible). As the "La Palabra Del Día" challlenge gives people a chance to test there comprehension/translation skills in one sentence, my concept would allow people to expand to a broader dialogue. Ideally, different scenarios/dialogues would include multiple tenses and moods, which seems to me to be the most challenging aspect of the language. (There could even be a "hint" button to help people determine the correct tense and mood). Of course I have no computer programming skills, so I have no idea how this would work technically.
What do people think of this idea?
I like this idea very much, there is however the question - how? Considering what is easier, what is harder I would rather expect we focus on those:
I am for the pen pal idea
What you described about the failure of the machine translators is exactly why I thought having more in-depth "converstations" to translate would be beneficial. Including common phrases, with the accompanying translations/answers from Paralee and the other site experts, would allow us to see/hear/learn these phrases more quickly.
On a theoretical level, "understanding" language is very difficult. Automatic/machine translation (MT) is in its infancy (and has been for about forty years). Viewed from the point of view of MT, is is astonishing that humans manage to communicate at all. MT can deal with very simple sentences (the sort where simple word-for-word substitution) suffices. With a large dictionary of "idiomatic phrases", Mt can do better but, unless the idiom appears in the dictionary, such programs are at a loss.
The fact that human can cope with this kind of complexity (irregularity) is a tribute to the flexibility (as a translating machine) of the human mind but the fact that we can do it, does not mean that we understand how we do it.
For MT to be successful we need to know how we understand language and we don't (not yet, at least).