Making a Translation Program Think

Create a translation computer app that “thinks” as it translates in order to create a more cohesive and understandable sentence. Many available translation programs go word by word rather than attempting to find the complete meaning of a phrase, and since many words have multiple meanings and translations, the end result can be garbage.


  • Essential Question: What is involved in translating syntactics and semantics into a computer program and how can irregularities and inconsistencies in language rules affect the coding behind it?
  • Area(s) of Study: Linguistics and Computer Programming.
  • Amount of credit earned: 6 Credits (Equivalent to 3 trimester courses.)
  • Community Partner: Linguistics professor


Content Specific Competencies

  • Algorithms and programming – become familiar with common algorithms and be able to effectively evaluate and select best-fit algorithms. Identify, use and design data structures based on storage and performance tradeoffs and functionality.
  • Data analysis and representation – demonstrate understanding of collection; storage; representation and modeling; presentation; and inference, deduction and analysis.
  • Linguistics – able to use the grammar, syntax and vocabulary of a language.

Schoolwide Learning Expectations

  • Communication – use various media to interpret, question, and express knowledge, information, ideas, feelings, and reasoning to create mutual understanding.
  • Creativity – use original and flexible thinking to communicate ideas or construct a unique product or solution.
  • Collaboration – work in diverse groups to achieve a common goal.
  • Self-Direction – initiate and manage personal learning and demonstrate a growth mindset.

ELO Department Competencies

  • Research – analyze and demonstrate an understanding of a learning experience through reflection.
  • Reflection – apply ongoing research to the evaluation and presentation of issues that arise, and the decisions made as the ELO progresses.
  • Product – demonstrate new knowledge and develop a tangible product that relates to the student’s interests, skills, and abilities.
  • Presentation – communicate the entire ELO experience, including the process and the learning, in a manner that is appropriate to the experience and the audience.

(See the detailed ELO description for the full text of these competencies.)

Student Activities

  • Spend three months diving into Linguistic Research and Translation Programming.
    • Determine major areas of research. This student chose the various methods of linguistic communications, machine translation, and analysis of the internal structure of words.
    • Do the research
  • Learn the Python programming language.
  • Review French language and syntactic patterns.
  • Develop coding for the translation program


Student was responsible for regularly checking in with her four mentor teachers (Science, Computer Programming, French, ELO Coordinator). The teachers were responsible for meeting with the student on a regular basis and problem-solving where needed.  The Science teacher acted as the lead mentor teacher, met with the student daily, and was primarily responsible for recording the student’s assessment.

The UNH Professor acted as a mentor to the student during the development of her translation program.  A couple of times during the ELO the student would share her progress for feedback and problem-solving.

The student kept track of the translation program build using screenshots and a journal and completed a final reflection paper. The student was responsible for documenting the research she conducted as well as reporting on her findings. The final product was to be a working translation program that would “think” when it translated from French to English. She was able to produce a working program but didn’t have a completed translation program as originally expected. The student presented her research findings, her process for developing the program as well as demonstration to an audience of students, parents and high school staff.

More information

This ELO took an entire school year to complete. This was an interesting ELO because every teacher and even professors at UNH all said “I don’t think I have the knowledge level to help her with this project.” Everyone seemed intimidated by the concept and didn’t feel as though they knew enough to be a mentor.  It took some time to explain that they were knowledgeable about the process of developing a computer program or had the expertise in using language to help her problem solve even if they didn’t have specific experience with the product she was proposing. It was a really great learning process for all of us – teaching versus facilitating. An exciting result was that the student came in second place at the NH Science and Engineering Expo!

This ELO was submitted by Donna Couture, ELO Coordinator at Winnacunnet High School. Email for more information