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Google translator

Google translator

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See the Discussion strand on Changing the Community name to World Languages for the context of this discussion... Re: Google Translator... I wonder if any of our readers can confirm the quality and accuracy of the Chinese translation which Allen posted in the other discussion? It has been my experience with Google's translator (based on how my students have tried to use it and it not doing the job...), that the service seems to promise much more than it can produce yet. I mean no disrespect to our friends at Google, but it isn't perfected yet. It is improving all the time, however! For example, taking Allen's text, when I translate into French, what I get is not bad, but it is not completely correct. It is correct enough to get the gist, and even more. Clearly it is a work in progress, well on the way, and useful for much. Anyway, I am curious how accurate the Chinese translation is, just to compare notes. In the meantime, for all of us who teach World Languages, how are you using Google translator? Or, if you aren't, why not? How are you directing students to use or not use this on-line tool? Personally, I have been asking students to use on-line dictionaries rather than translators. I like that the students can engage in thinking critically about which words to use based on the definitions and examples which are not so readily apparent in on-line translators. What do you think? This is one of the great things about the on-line community forum here at Edutopia. Please contribute your thoughts and ideas! I love to hear what you all are doing and your creative ideas. Thanks again to Allen for his posting. Don On Twitter - @dr_dmd

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EEH's picture

My students always have a day where we focus on Google Translator. For homework, I have them fill out a worksheet that guides them through experimenting with Google Translator. When they come back, more often than not, they find the results humorous and unreliable. We also discuss how using the translator does not help them build their language skills, as it just gives them an (inaccurate) answer. For good measure and humor, we also watch this video (edited)

Stephanie K.'s picture
Stephanie K.
High School Spanish 2

I watched the YouTube reference you cited. What a great example. I'm planning an assignment using this, with a disclaimer for some PG-13 language. I want students to try the experiment of re-translating using Google Translator like the people in the video did. Then they can re-translate using only English-Spanish-English to see just how many differences can come from two steps of translation. Hopefully this will make them aware and wary of shortcutting translations.

Don Doehla, MA, NBCT's picture
Don Doehla, MA, NBCT
2015 California Language Teacher of the Year, Co-Director Berkeley WL Project at UC Berkeley Language Center

Great tips, y'all! Well done. Good approach to this problem by engaging kids with using the translator and connecting to pop culture. The point is made and should stick as well.

Wiktor Kostrzewski's picture
Wiktor Kostrzewski
Director of Studies at City School of Languages, Swansea, UK

One of the first things I learned about translation - and the first thing I teach my translation students - is that you never translate "word for word", but "effect for effect". The meaning of the communication is the effect, the response you get.
And that, sadly, is something Google translator (or any machine tool) cannot give. Sure, it will make things quicker and easier - but learning shouldn't always be about the quick and the easy...
Anyway, not sure if I'm contributing something here or just ranting because I feel translating machines breathing down my back :)

Don Doehla, MA, NBCT's picture
Don Doehla, MA, NBCT
2015 California Language Teacher of the Year, Co-Director Berkeley WL Project at UC Berkeley Language Center

Thanks for your post, Walter! I think your explanation is quite well said, and I am sure it will be helpful to many. Google promises us the world easily, but it cannot deliver all it promises. We constantly have to battle with students to get them to accept that we who speak another language know better about this issue! Thanks again or your post.

Dr. Eva Bogard's picture
Dr. Eva Bogard
German high school teacher, former French teacher, and IB ITGS teacher

I am the only foreign language teacher at my high school who allows and even encourages the use of Google translate for my first and second year students.

First of all, they don't have enough experience with the language to know how to choose the correct word from a dictionary and it would take forever for them to write an essay going one word at a time. I also know that most students will end their foreign language studies after completing the 2 required years. Then they might want to write in their previously studied language when they are alone online and will only have Google translate to help them.

So, I have them learn through trial and error how to put English sentences into Google to get the best chance of an almost perfect sentence. Some students are so good at it, I have only a couple sentences to fix. I tell them not to use contractions, not to use idioms, and keep their sentences very short and simple. They can combine them with conjunctions later. They always double translate (meaning take the Google translation and translate it back into English to see if it still makes sense.

Once they have written a list of 15 sentences in German, using Google translate, I fix the few errors left, or circle completely terrible sentences and have them try again by restating their thought in a different sentence for Google to try again.

I believe that I am preparing them be able to use their limited language skills long past high school.

Now, when it comes to my advanced students, I always tell them they are smarter than Google translate and should use a dictionary when they get stuck.

Don Doehla, MA, NBCT's picture
Don Doehla, MA, NBCT
2015 California Language Teacher of the Year, Co-Director Berkeley WL Project at UC Berkeley Language Center

Thanks for sharing how you use this tool. Certainly there are ways to use Google Translate. However, as one intent more on language acquisition, I really prefer that they avoid translation, and work more on using the language they 'own' as a result of listening and reading text, taking it in, playing with it in the midst of our class story telling, apply it in creating projects with Web 2.0 tools in particular, than in getting bogged down in a tool which requires so much technical skill in being able to translate accurately. Again, there is a place for it, I just think it should be for those who have already acquired much proficiency in the L2 to use it well. Just my perspective! Let your professional passion guide you as you help your students learn to communicate in your classes.


Jimmy Ye, MBA's picture
Jimmy Ye, MBA
NJ High School Mandarin Chinese Teacher

I have used Google Translate because it provides pinyin. It would take me longer time to find the vowels with the tones on them than to use Google Translate. In addition, I only use it on word based translation, but not on an entire paragraph or essay. I would not recommend students, especually beginners, to use any online translators. I have been doing translating work for companies in China and I have used many of the online translating devices. Unfortunately, onle of those would translate the way humans do, accurately.

Lisa Pluth's picture
Lisa Pluth
Researcher and Writer

As a student of Chinese for over 20 years I would tell your students to be very careful of using Google to translate Chinese. As Jimmy points out above it can be helpful for single word or even multiple character translations but I would never suggest using it for anything more. Chinese is a language with many nuances and many different meanings for each and every character. Google translator looks to me like a scan of the concise english/chinese dictionary by the Oxford University Press. Not a bad resource but certainly not the best.

Lourdes Brown's picture
Lourdes Brown
Middle School Spanish Teacher

I have used Google Translate and agree that it is not bad, but not entirely accurate either. It seems to have trouble with the subjunctive and noun adjective agreement too. I especially don't want my students using it for writing. It would be another thing if they don't understand a reading and use it for translation of phrases or words. I feel it is important for them to make meaning with the vocabulary and grammar that they are being taught when writing.

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