How to help students use Google Translate efficiently?



Recently, I stumbled upon a great blog to follow if you are considering flipping the Spanish classroom. I started to read the latest post about Google Translate and I could not help but start to cringe! I have to admit that as soon I read or hear that a device or a tool should be banned, I become quite irritated. José Picardo resumes better than I would ever do what I believe is The Totalitarian state of education: “Like most totalitarian states, schools generally take a hard line stance against the proliferation of new social media. As a result, like citizens in most totalitarian states, students soon find ways to circumvent the restrictions placed upon them and continue using social media under the radar. The totalitarian school believes it is protecting its citizens, although, in reality, by choosing to ignore the ubiquity of social media in students’ daily lives, schools are simply creating the illusion of safety. In fact, many schools are simply looking the other way. They have chosen not to want to know.

Coming back to Google Translate, as I commented on Sra. Witten’s blog, I do not think that the answer is to forbid students to use it (because they will use it no matter how). The answer is to train students to use Google Translate wisely and efficiently. The same applies to Wikipedia, as I mentioned in a previous post, as to any other devices such as mobile phones or web tools. Now the big question is how to teach students to use Google translate properly? My comment on Sra. Witten’s post lead to other comments asking this same question. Most language teachers work hard to teach students how to use a dictionary properly, but is it the same as to use Google Translate? It differs in many ways and the first thing to acknowledge in my opinion is that it is not a dictionary, it is a powerful translator which offers four main tools areas:

  • Translation
  • Translated Search
  • Translator Toolkit
  • Tools and Resources

I do use the translation tool myself when trying to write an email or letter in German and I do agree that it can be misleading. However my dear man taught me a trick: to translate the German version again in English to see if it makes sense. With my basic knowledge of German, I can still spot translation mistakes and try to correct them. Maybe this is a way to guide students?


I also searched on the web for some tips on to use Google Translate properly and found an interesting article on on how to use Google Translate to teach English. Here are some activities which could be tried with students:

  • Have students write short texts in the target language, and translate them into English. Using Google Translate for translation can help students catch grammatical errors by spotting these errors in the translations.
  • Provide your own short text and let Google Translate into English. Ask students to read the translation and then try to come up with the original text.
  • Use authentic resources, but provide the URL and have students translate the original into English. This will help out when it comes to difficult vocabulary. Make sure that students use Google Translate only after they have first read the article in the target language.

Now, as I mentioned above I would not use Google Translate as a bilingual dictionary but as a tool to help writing texts and reading authentic resources. I would recommend using Word Reference as an online dictionary. Madame Aiello wrote a post about it with good ideas on how to use the forum links.

What about you? How do you use Google Translate with your students?

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4 thoughts on “How to help students use Google Translate efficiently?

  1. I have found this article really interesting – I think too we have been guilty of out and out banning Google translate rather than working with it, as pupils will inevitably try it out in an attempt to make their life easier. This has given me an idea for a literacy based lesson for some of my lower ability year 8 classes, perhaps we will try out using online translation tools in an attempt to spot the little tiny errors that they are making frequently which are holding them back from making progress to the next level.

  2. Thank you for your comment Sadie. Let me know how your literacy based lesson works with your students. We, as teachers, are on a learning curve to try to educate our students with new tools. So it will be a series of trials and errors and it is always best to share our experiences to improve 🙂

  3. Web based translation have come a long way since the time they first appeared. At the very beginning, they would just translate text word by word, not regard any other aspects, this result in the translated text practically useless. Much of that has been changed with the emergence of the Google translation. It can now hand in pretty good translations of websites. But the web based translations still have some limitations. How should we decide whether we shall do the translation on the web or get a human translator involved? `-

    Ciao for now

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