Google Translate- is this changing the nature of LOTE teaching?

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I was involved in a session the other day with Yr 9 students. We were exploring techniques for searching the web to find the information you need. We spent some time looking at Google Scholar and this led to an exploration of some of the other applications Google offers. When we touched on Google Translate you could see this ‘look’ appear on the students’ faces. It was like I’d uncovered their hidden secret.  

What emerged quite clearly was that the students were using Google Translate to assist them with their LOTE classes. Obviously they were under the impression that the teaching staff weren’t tuned into the wonders of Google Translate and all it offers.

If you haven’t used it yet, you should check Google Translate out. I’ve had to use it recently when I had comments in Russian left on this blog. I thought they might have been Russian spammers, but they were legitimate comments.  It helped that I work with a Russian colleague who was able to verify that the returns I was getting from Google Translate were close to the mark. I can only imagine that the students at my school have discovered this as a pretty effective tool for handling homework easily. I’m just left wondering whether the LOTE staff are onto it.

If they’re not, they should be, and so should all the LOTE teachers out there. Hopefully people are finding ways to make it an effective tool to support the learning of students. All you need to do is place text into a box, select the language you want to translate to and hit enter. Check out the screenshot below.  


Using it has made me think about travel and how handy Google Translate would be if you were overseas and had an internet enabled phone. You could use this as your translation tool to navigate your way through  non- English speaking countries. I know that when Iwas in Shanghai by myself last year, I had moments where I felt completely vulnerable due to my inability to communicate.  Google translate would have been a  lifesaver, especially for those moments when I was trying to hail Taxis and have them take me to my hotel when all I had was the hotel name written in English. You can imagine the difficulties I had. All I can say is, you live and learn!  

Interestingly enough, it’s made me consider the Tower of Babel story from Genesis. When I was in my first year of Teacher’s College,  I had to write a 3000 word essay about the perception of God based on the Book of Genesis.  I had enormous difficulty finding references as I was presenting  the viewpoint that God had it in for man. I literally had to hole myself up in the State Library of Victoria for a period of time, as the only book I could find that went anywhere near supporting my viewpoint was one by Erich Fromm that was only housed there. 

How do I bring this anecdote to my discussion of Google Translate?

It’s a leveller. It enables collaboration across cultures distanced by language. And unless the almighty disables the internet to divide mankind, the use of a tool like this will help to faciliate the  abilty of cultures to work together to communicate and maybe, just maybe, work together to solve the problems that plague this planet.

In the meantime, LOTE teachers, get yourselves up to speed. The kids you teach might be just one step ahead of you. 


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4 Replies to “Google Translate- is this changing the nature of LOTE teaching?”

  1. I agree Jenny that Google translator is a very useful tool but students need to be taught how to use it properly. So many students will copy a paragraph or two of English text into it (which often has English errors in it anyway) and then submit the Google translated text as their own work (often full of sentences that don’t make sense because their English didn’t make sense either!).

    As for teachers not being aware of their students using translators, I’m not sure if that is always the case. It is usually very obvious that a translator has been used due to the fact that you haven’t taught a grammar concept yet and the student is using it thanks to the translator. When you ask the student to tell you what they wrote, they often have no idea!

    There certainly is a place for translators but from a LOTE teacher’s perspective, I would recommend online dictionaries over translators every time.

    1. Thank you for sharing your viewpoint Belinda. I really appreciate your perspective on Google Translator. It’s important that LOTE teachers share their experiences and help us all understand the impact or otherwise of these tools.

      1. I agree with Belinda and also encourage students to first look at the online dictionaries available before relying on translators. As a Japanese teacher it is usually obvious if a translator has been used as in Japanese there are different levels of language – polite and plain forms. The translators generally give the plain form, whereas they are usually first taught the polite form.
        Translators like google thus become a great starting point for discussing how the language works and the differences between English and the target language.

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