Education/Archive/Case studies/drafts/Translating a page from English Wikipedia to Simple English Wikipedia for linguistics students

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Translating a page from English Wikipedia to Simple English Wikipedia[edit]

Case study on teaching linguistics students to translate pages from English Wikipedia to Simple English Wikipedia.


I am the coordinator of Wikipedia initiatives at Brigham Young University. I taught linguistics students in their class about Simple English Wikipedia. Specifically, I taught students about how linguists have used Simple English Wikipedia and how to simplify English sentences for use in Simple English Wikipedia. The students "translated" a page from regular English Wikipedia to Simple English Wikipedia. Students gained a better understanding of the limitations of Simple English Wikipedia and Wikipedia after editing it themselves. The training took two class periods, not just one like I expected, and could be improved with better student and instructor preparation. The students improved eight pages on Simple English Wikipedia.


The Brigham Young University (BYU) Linguistics department has students who study both Linguistics and English Language. Students in this major often go on to have careers in editing, translating, or teaching English as a second language. I, Rachel Helps, am employed as a part-time coordinator of Wikipedia initiatives in BYU's main library, the Harold B. Lee Library. I supervise two student workers who mainly edit Wikipedia pages that are relevant to our special collections. The Simple English Wikipedia community I engaged with was welcoming and very small compared to English Wikipedia.


One of my previous student workers presented on her work in one of Professor Nancy Turley's classes. Professor Turley expressed interest in incorporating Wikipedia into her curriculum. I suggested that I could present on Simple English Wikipedia. I knew that the Wikipedia corpus is used in linguistics research, and I guessed, correctly, that Simple English Wikipedia was also used for linguistics research. I had also read that most readers of English Wikipedia imagine that it is edited by experts. I wanted linguistics students to understand first-hand how Wikipedia is edited so they would have a good understanding of the Wikipedia corpus.

Project goals[edit]

The goal of this project was to introduce Simple English Wikipedia to linguistics students, to have them contribute to Simple English Wikipedia, and to help them understand the limitations of the Simple English and English corpi.


In preparation for the training, I did background research on how linguists have used Simple English Wikipedia. I wanted to ensure that students understood how it was relevant to their studies. In order to prepare for students to contribute to Simple English Wikipedia, I created stubs of pages that were relevant to our library collections so that students would not have to learn how to create a new page (at least one of which was deleted before the class). I used Thing Explainer to introduce the concept of Simple English. Thing Explainer provided a negative example of oversimplification--the book describes objects in such simple words that it is sometimes difficult for native speakers to understand. For example, a cell phone is called a "hand computer." Simple English Wikipedia guidelines advise against such oversimplifications.

I made this slideshow to present Simple Wikipedia (see especially the notes on the slides). I gave students a summary of linguistics research that used Simple English Wikipedia. Students created their own Wikipedia accounts, and some had to make an account through my login with my accountcreator right. I guided them through making their userpage, assigned pages, and told them how to find their page on both enwiki and Simple English Wikipedia. Their instructor told them to work in pairs, and two students tried to make a single account and were banned. I told them to copy a few paragraphs from the enwiki page and to paste it into the Simple English editing box. They then "translated" the English Wikipedia text into Simple English for the assignment. I showed them a utility that would highlight words that were not part of the 850 most common words in English.

By the end of the first class, students did not feel prepared to complete the assignment. I came back for their next class period and we used the time to go over revision histories and the guidelines for writing simple sentences on Simple English Wikipedia. The students continued to work on the assignment in-class. I brought one of my student employees, who helped a student who had missed the previous class. I collected names and usernames so I could grade each student's contributions. I also added the "based on" template to the talk pages of the edited articles to properly attribute the "translated" text. For students who did not properly source their text, I added the appropriate citations from the English Wikipedia page.


Eight pages on Simple English Wikipedia were improved, and most had over 6,000 bytes added by two users. The students who edited the pages now have a better understanding of how to edit Wikipedia. My goal wasn't to make new Wikipedia users, but rather to increase information literacy, which I think we achieved. Students also learned that it is challenging to write simply.

The pages students improved were:

Lessons learned[edit]

One class period is really too short to create a Wikipedia login and start translating from English Wikipedia to Simple English Wikipedia. I had planned to present and train in one class period, but we actually needed two. The 850 basic English wordlist utility was not very helpful, as it marked different forms of words even if they were on the list. My grading criteria on sentence simplification were not very specific. One student completely misunderstood the assignment. Several students copied in-line citations incorrectly or did not copy them over at all, and I corrected the references on the pages they edited. Next time, we might skip creating a userpage and spend more time on understanding citations, even though they are just copying and pasting references. I plan to use a larger wordlist, have students create a Wikipedia login before class, and bring a student to help give individual help.

Future directions[edit]

I hope to teach the same class next semester, but with the improvements I mentioned in "Lessons learned."