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Accurate Translations for ESL Online Learning

May 12, 2021

Establishing Clear Communication 

Online learning has made prolific increases in growth due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, as all aspects of society reverted to online platforms.  Most especially in Asian countries like China where Chinese citizens are taking significant steps to ensure their child’s education success, online English as a Second Language (ESL) learning platforms have exploded saturating the online ESL community. Companies like VIPKID and GoGoKid dominate the market with over 100,000 teachers who are mostly based in the United States.

In China alone, the ESL market has almost doubled since 2017 in the English language training market. What is significant about China ESL learning is they want American accents as western culture has become abundantly popular with western culture, fashion, food, and music becoming more prevalent.  Clear communications between the teacher and the student are pertinent but often fraught with misunderstandings since the translation services provided by the company often do not consider a teacher’s local dialect, accent, or often double entendre.  

This Does Not Mean... That! 

“Silly” in English will translate into “stupid” in Chinese.  The auto-translators powered by the online search giants are often riddled with mistranslations and strange innuendo that will have one second guessing which can lead to confused readers who may take offense at the translation provided. Considering all the recent news about the strain between Chinese and American governments, this is a positive. The problem is communication between clients and teachers can become strained when the translations are not accurate.  


Chinese do not want to sound British or Australian, they want that flat American way of speaking. 

Online classes with ESL companies are usually formatted in a total immersion process where the teacher does not speak any of the student’s language.  Feedback at the end of the lessons are then provided in English and then put through a translator (VIPKID uses Tencent, an artificial intelligence powered translator) which then the parent/and or student can read in their native tongue.   

Accents, Dialects, and Double Entendres 

So, how accurate are these translations? 

Tencent has often been criticized for not being an accurate translation.  When teachers receive their class review, the parent has often written this review in Chinese. Teachers then need to consult their own translators (often Google or Bing).  This can lead to misunderstandings and sometimes bad reviews based off sometimes even the slightest of misunderstandings. Bad reviews can lead to contract renewal complications as well as lower bookings. This can be due to dialect or accent (American teachers have different accents, a teacher from Michigan or Minnesota is going to have a different way of saying different words than a teacher from Alabama or Arkansas). 

Nuance is different, words are shortened or clipped, this affects how Chinese students perceive the language they are learning, so when these feedbacks are being thrown in auto translators powered by Google or Bing, that nuance and double meaning are lost and that results in a misunderstanding between student and teacher and possibly an overall diminished view of America. There is a need for more dependable translation services by ESL companies.  

Saturated ESL Market Leads To a Decrease in Quality 

Chinese ESL companies have been on a hiring frenzy in the last few years, they’ve hired so many, they do not critically examine their teachers, usually only a 4 year degree is required followed by 2 hours of training for an online TESOL certificate.  Both noted companies require one to two years of teaching experience, but both VIPKID and GoGoKid count teaching related experience like babysitting or tutoring which isn’t exactly hands on teaching experience.  The lack of stringent ESL teaching requirements can lead to inexperienced, undereducated teachers being the first real American person a Chinese student sees and hears. That could be a particularly jarring experience for a Chinese student (and parent) should the class not go well. 

No wonder feedbacks are being mistranslated when the teacher themselves may not have the capability to provide a proper feedback free from slang, innuendo, or simply heavily accented English based off their area of residence and upbringing.   

The fault then lies within the Chinese ESL companies for not vetting their teachers more thoroughly or providing a translation service which considers different accents, jargon, and slang. Accurate translations are pertinent in setting up a positive learning experience for both teacher and student as well as establishing a positive view of both cultures.   

ESL Companies Cutting Costs 

With companies seeking American accented English, due to high unemployment rates and massive layoffs, more people are seeking online jobs than ever before.  Have a college degree and just lost your job? Get an online teaching job!   It's been known how competitive the Chinese can be, we hear stories all the time in the news about the pressure that students face.  Chinese companies like VIPKID  have become inundated with so many people seeking ESL jobs, that they’ve reduced pay up to 20% and have strict absence policies.  The more teachers these giant companies have, the easier it is to drive out the more experienced, higher paid teachers. 

By driving the more experienced teachers back to traditional brick-and-mortar establishments, the entire learning experience received by the Chinese student has become diminished as well as their view of American culture.     

Companies that are reputable for accurate translations need to be sourced more often than those that rely on auto translators.  Bigger ESL companies which may be looking to cut costs and raise their bottom line often forgo a more expensive translation service thus undercutting their student/parent experience online learning experience.  By cutting expenses in this department, these big companies will then start to lose the trust of their customers who pay a premium and lose out on their willingness to give their children the advantages of being multilingual in a hyper-competitive global market.    

Does ProLingo Provide a Better Choice?

It is important to find a company like ProLingo that specializes in providing a variety of translating services which establishes that they have the necessary tools to take into account the different dialects or accents.   In order to promote a cross cultural positive experience with proper understanding and learning on both sides, finding a company to translate your feedback is a necessary asset for the ESL community and a boon for cultural understanding. Having over 100,000 American teachers for VIPKID alone, having a postive experience will crossover in American culture which has seen an increase in Asian hate crimes.  

With more Chinese parents wanting bilingual students, Chinese ESL companies have increased their demand for American accented English teachers and thus increased their need for accurate translations so that the learning experience can be one that promotes a positive learning experience. Maybe Chinese companies need to research smaller companies with better reputations for providing excellent translation services rather than utilizing generalized tools which are known to be riddled with mistakes.  Both American and Chinese cultures are becoming more closely economically entwined, having a bilingual base of workers who understand each other is a long-term benefit to both. 

Having a great encounter in the classroom will promote respect and deepen understanding between two very different cultures. This is why all aspects of the ESL class should be considered. Better teachers and better translations will lead to a better cross cultural experience in learning. 

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