I copied a paragraph from one of the stories we read, "The Judge's House" (originally written by Bram Stoker and retold in simplified version by Rosemary Border), into the Babelfish translator. Here's the sentence:
He almost dropped the lamp. He stepped back at once, and the sweat of fear was upon his pale face. His knees shook. His whole body trembled like a leaf. But he was young and brave, and he moved forward again with his lamp.Then I had the translator turn it into Chinese:
他幾乎投下了燈。他立即跨步, 並且恐懼汗水是在他的蒼白面孔。他的膝蓋震動了。他的整體打顫了像葉子。但他是年輕和勇敢的, 並且他再今後搬走了與他的燈。The Chinese is a bit odd (OK, it's positively weird). First of all, "dropped" becomes "threw"; then "stepped back" becomes "stepped" (no indication of direction); "the sweat of fear was upon his face" is rendered into very unidiomatic Chinese. A more likely sentence would be something like "他蒼白的面孔上冒出了恐懼的汗水。" (I'm sure someone can come up something better, but...) His knee is now no longer shaking--it's vibrating. And so on... Toward the end, "he moved forward again with his lamp" becomes a sentence about moving out (as in, from one's home) again from this day forward... er... with his lamp.
Just for the fun of it, I used Babelfish to translate the Chinese back into English:
He has nearly thrown down the lamp. He steps immediately the step, and the frightened sweat is in his pale face. His knee vibrated. His whole trembled has liked the leaf. But he is young and brave, and he from now on moved out and his lamp again.If you're saying, "Huh?", you're right. And this is what I'm seeing: mistakes that I've never seen non-native writers make before. Mistakes that are different--and usually more severe--than they probably would have made had they written it themselves in the first place.
My question about this is, how does this fit into the usual discussions of student writing
On the other hand, I also have to think that one of my purposes for asking students to write something is for them to practice using the English that they have already learned rather than merely generating English text. Perhaps I need to make that purpose clearer to them...