In my professional life, I am a Spanish teacher and an Instructional Technologist. In my civilian life, I’m a “wordie.” I mean this not in the Scottish “mere word” sense, but in the “food : foodie :: word : wordie” way. If such descriptive delight does not exist, consider it dropped!

Knowing this, it should come as no surprise that I have Spanish dictionaries for days and muchos manuales. I have Spanish-English dictionaries, refraneros, style guides, grammars, dictionaries of  synonyms and antonyms, dictionaries of literary terms and dictionaries of literary figures, dictionaries of dudas, and many, many more.

Of all the print resources I have, my prized possession is Larousse Spanish-English paperback circa 1995. I took it to Mallorca, Spain with me for my junior year abroad, where I studied at the Universitat de les Illes Balears. The varnished volume sits on my desk at work. I use it daily, trusting its wisdom, enjoying its patina, and chuckling at the peseta to dollar calculations inside the cover.

Oddly, of all the resources I’ve collected and referenced, there is only one I carry with me every day of the school year. It is a Seiko Instruments Spanish Translator, model DF-370. It was gift from my maternal grandparents when I was in ninth or tenth grade. That I still have it is kind of a miracle. I can’t say that I have much more from back then. Baseball cards, other sports memorabilia, a few books and some notebooks. Of course I have photos, but few. The Seiko DF-370 has defied time and, to a certain extent, logic.

To be honest, I use it infrequently as a translator. It’s easier to look a word up online using Google Translate, WordReference or the DRAE. Let’s consider the cons. It is a one trick pony. It can’t take updates. It has no voice input, nor can it read me back the words to improve pronunciation. It can’t catalog my queries or link my searches to someone else’s. It has on AR potential. 

Why then? Why carry it around? Truth is, the translator is more talisman than tool.

Why then? Why carry it around? Truth is, the translator is more talisman than tool. It reminds me of my grandparents. It reminds me of my grandfather’s recliner. It reminds me of the the red, hardbound Russian-English dictionary that he kept by his recliner for consults and word puzzles. It reminds me of flipping through this dictionary, called by the Cyrillic characters and consumed by the idea of understanding and maybe some day speaking another language. It reminds me that my grandparents knew and cared about what I was studying. It reminds me that my parents did too. (Someone was feeding my grandparents good intel, and I doubt it was my fourteen year old self.) It reminds me that they–both my parents and grandparents–saw this as a passion. Yes, it’s easy to fit the narrative to the curve now, but I swear there is something to it. That is why I carry it around.


At this point, you are probably dying to hear about the specs of the DF-370. Thanks to eBay, we call them up. The translator had an 11,000 word vocabulary. It could translate English to Spanish and Spanish to English. It had an 8-digit expanding dot matrix LCD display. It was credit card size to fit easily in one hand. It had a four function calculator with memory. It had an auto off. How do you say “clutch” en español? Snickers aside, it was about all a boy could want in 1990.

Today, tools are faster, more reliable and more collaborative, all by but factors of…forget about it. Truth is, I spend my time in this very virtual space trying to keep myself current and bring readers along for the ride. Still–and here comes the nostalgia–something is lost.

Today, tools are faster, more reliable and more collaborative, all by but factors of…forget about it. Truth is, I spend my time in this very virtual space trying to keep myself current and bring readers along for the ride. Still–and here comes the nostalgia–something is lost. The patina, the personal connection, the permanency. You can give a student a smartphone which opens up limitless possibilities, good and bad, Pandora style. Can it translate? Yes. Can it download apps to record audio, access authentic content and track progress. Yes, yes, and yes. Unfortunately, however, by the time a student graduates the device will likely be gone: obsolete and turned over for next year’s model. They certainly won’t have it 20 or 30 years on. The content will be in the cloud, sure, but the connection is lost. One can say this with translators as easily as with books, encyclopedias, maps, vinyl, CDs, DVDs, VHS, newsreels, newspapers, magazines and any tangible media. For my part, I could write a similar homage that to the dictionary I received as a sixth grade graduation gift or the globe that my aunt and uncle gave me at some point around then. All three have been with me for many years and, more impossibly, many moves. Must mean something…

What does this mean then? What will students carry with them? What will generous grandparents give as gifts? What if you are someone who thinks even an electronic translator is too far along to begin this conversation? How do we move progress in terms of the tools we use yet hang on to what’s truly meaningful? Is this possible?

I don’t know, but I do know that adults and kids will have to make decisions. Schools and other institutions of learning will too. Libraries are particularly vulnerable. For instance, I almost took my own kids to the Boston Athenaeum today. It would have been a fun trip and our thirds consecutive Free Fun Friday. We didn’t, but we could have. Where will the knowledge of the future live and how will we access it? What if the grid goes down? What will serve as our guides, both as a portal to access information and a physical connection to it?

I don’t know about you, but I’ll have my globe, my dictionaries, my grammars and my Seiko Instruments Spanish Translator, model DF-370.

 

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