We had three new students start in our high school today. They're Chinese and speak very little English. This being rural Massachusetts, people fluent in Mandarin are extremely hard to come by. We have plenty of bilingual services for Spanish-speaking kids, but this is a new one for our sleepy little town.
The principal of the high school almost jokingly asked if I spoke Chinese. He told me later that he knew I'd taken an Asian language in high school, but couldn't remember if it was Japanese or Mandarin (I grew up in Seattle, so Pacific Rim languages were pretty common offerings). Unfortunately for him, my third year of Japanese ended about 15 years ago, so I was of absolutely no use.
I am, however, the IT guy, so I started thinking about technological solutions as a stopgap while we seek out appropriate English language learner resources for these kids. Of course, Google Translation Tools popped into my head. It is, after all, Google. Google does a great job of generating Chinese characters from English words, but without Chinese character support in our operating systems, browsers, and keyboards, there wasn't much happening in reverse. Even typing the romanized versions of Chinese words didn't yield a translation.
I think it's time for some hardware, but this is where my expertise ends. Who has had good luck with electronic, speaking translators, particularly devices that could be integrated into an ELL program? A quick search turned up devices by BBKUSA, but any reviews, advice, experiences, or thoughts would be much appreciated.
I've always wanted to learn Mandarin, but I think technology can probably do a better job in the short term than I can.