Feb 17

Using Google Translate in the language classroom

Inspirational Ideas for Teaching Online
Using Google Translate in the language classroom
Isn't translation 'cheating'? NO!! It's definitely not and technology can help in all kinds of ways. Here's a great idea for using Google Translate (especially if you're teaching online).
Video transcript

If you're doing a lot more online teaching at the moment then you might be grateful for some ideas. My name's Jo Gakonga from ELT-Training.com and I've just put up a new course called Inspirational Ideas for Teaching Online. Following this is a sample unit from the course so if you like this then you might like the rest of the course. Just go to elt-training.com to find it -I hope you find it helpful.

Hello again! I seem to think that in language teaching and maybe in other walks of life too, that ideas seem to come around again and again and actually there's nothing new under the sky. One of the things that I think is really useful and has come in and out of fashion over my time as a language teacher is translation and the use of translation for language teaching. One of the great proponents of this was Charles Arthur Curran who invented the Community Language Learning method and whilst this isn't exactly the same as that, it has elements of that about it in the translation of meaningful messages so I guess there's a hat tip to him.

The important things for Curran about this method were that learners were making meaningful messages and that there was no syllabus or course book but the language lessons were being led by what the learners needed. I think that this can be done very successfully using technology and teaching online because again you've got that immediacy of the online environment.

What you're going to do in this case is to get learners to be able to deliver meaningful stories, anecdotes, jokes, messages in L2 (in English) translated from their L1. Now if you speak their L1 then that's fantastic- you can do the translating for them - but if you don't then you can use Google Translate very easily. The first stage in this activity is to ask the learners to think about a story or a message or something that they'd like to tell. In my experience, if you just leave it very open like this the answer you get is 'I can't think of anything to say' so it's a good idea to narrow it down. It could be 'tell me a fairy story from your country'; it could be 'tell me about a bad holiday you had or a good holiday you had' (bad holidays are often better stories!)- so something of that nature.

When they've got a story, they should write it down in L1 (in their own first language). I'd suggest that this isn't too long. When they've done that, simply put it into Google Translate. I took an example of the story of Chicken Little in Spanish. I don't speak good Spanish but I got this off the internet. Now you can see when I put it into Google Translate that although the translation is actually pretty good between European languages (Google Translate is actually very good now) there are some anomalies and these are the things that you're going to look at with your learners.

First of all, you could look at where Google translate hasn't really got it right. So in this case, for example we've got the idea of Chicken Little being a chick. Well, I think that's because he's a 'little chicken' in Spanish but I think it sounds a little odd in English and we'd probably say he was a chicken. We've then also got the fact that we're talking about 'normal’ things. It comes up three times (the word normal) where I think in English, although it's completely fine to use that word and everybody will understand what you meant, I think a more natural use of language would be 'ordinary'. And finally, although Google translate happily calls Chicken Little 'he' on several occasions, at the bottom here we use 'it' and clearly that's not usual for a chicken where we've personified it by giving it a name. If it was just a chicken in the field then we could call it 'it' but if it's a chicken with a name and there's character in our story I think it definitely has to have a personal pronoun of he or she (in this case 'he'). Again, these are things that you could talk about with your learners.

When you've got the corrected version, another useful thing is to look at the language that's in the text that they have generated. In this case, there are quite a lot of nice things to look at. We could look at the 'neither /nor' and the repetition of language that's in here that's quite poetic and quite story-like. When you've looked at this language and analysed it, what of course you're going to get your learners to do is to tell the story themselves without the text. Obviously you might want to give them at first some words or phrases to help them and support their telling of the story or you could not- it depends on how capable your learners are.

Another thing that you could do with this is, while they're telling the story, record it (possibly even transcribe it afterwards although that's quite a lot of work). Certainly, listen to it again together and look at the kind of errors they're making. You can stop and start the recording, ask them to self-correct and then of course do the task again. Task repetition, I think, is really important and really useful if you're doing this one-to-one and it's very easy to do. If you're doing it with a group of students, you may only want to look at one or two stories in each lesson and maybe not spend the whole time looking at each other's stories.

So, there we have it -another idea for online teaching using Google Translate.

Created with