A new student came to my school about three weeks ago who speaks very excellent Spanish. The problem is, he doesn’t speak a lick of English. And he’s never used a computer before…ever. Needless to say I was extremely apprehensive about meeting him and trying to accomplish anything. Little did I know that his passion for baseball would make our time together in the computer lab a rather enjoyable one for both of us.
While listing off the choices of programs and websites the students had yesterday (it was their last day in the computer lab and I usually NEVER give them free choice time) my little friend just stared at the screen, nodded, and said “OK!” as I read off each choice. Until that is, I got to Batter’s Up Baseball, at which point he almost leapt out of his seat shouting “BASEBALL!” In perfect English no less. For those of you not familiar with Batter’s Up Baseball, it’s a terrific little math facts game that allows players to pick what type of pitch they want, the more difficult the pitch, the more difficult the math problem, and then try to beat the computer by earning more runs. After I saw his reaction it only took a couple of minutes to get across the idea of holding the mouse, clicking the mouse, and moving it on the screen. Before he had come I was worried it would be like teaching a Kindergartner to use a mouse for the first time (which I’ve done before). Thankfully, he picked up the skill quickly, and with a little demonstrating on my part, he was clicking and double clicking his way to the game in no time. Several times he got excited when getting a run, or hitting a double. He was especially animated when he got his first out, and worked extra hard not to get any more math problems wrong.
The rest of the 35 minutes that I had his class for I spent asking him questions via Alta Vista’s Babel Fish translator tool. While the Babel Fish translator isn’t exactly perfection in machine translation (it translated the English word “different” into the Spanish word for “diverse”), it worked well enough, and every time I wanted to ask him a question like “Do you want to try a new game” or “Please watch how the person next to you does it”, I could put it up on the big screen and show him the written Spanish, rather than try to butcher pronouncing it. Quite the handy little tool (and FREE!) that would work in many ESL classrooms. It worked well enough for me to get through 45 minutes of computer time, with a student who had never had contact with a computer just a month ago, although I’m sure I would have been fine without it thanks to a little Baseball game.