Why students use google translate and what teachers can do

What to do when students use google translateDuring the quarantine, I’ve seen a lot of teachers complaining about students submitting work in which they’ve used Google Translate. The problem is not new for language teachers, but without being able to have all writing done in the classroom during distance learning, the problem is now more relevant than ever. So,  why do students use translators and what can we do about it?

Why students use translators?

  • Laziness: they don’t want to think about what they’ve learned and what they already know how to say in the target language. They just want to get the assignment done and translators have the answers they are looking for.
  • Frustration: Students want to be able to express themselves with the same language ability as they are accustomed to in their native language.  Students are likely thinking about how to answer the question in their native language and are translating word by word and when they come across a word (or sentences) they don’t know, they look it up.
  • Relevance/Compliance: Students aren’t concerned about language acquisition and are just wanting to get a good grade. They want to please their teacher and think that the answer is more important than the method. They may not even be interested in learning the language are just required to take the class to get credit.


What can we do about it?

Certainly, these methods are not going to solve the issue for every student. There will always be some students that

  • Do writing in class: Well, this doesn’t apply during remote learning but it is always best to have written work done during class time. This way you can monitor students and help them out when they get stuck. When students ask me how to say something, I can try to help them think of a simpler way to say it (circumlocution) or just provide the word for them if it is necessary.
  • Focus on Input: Especially for beginner level classes, try to limit the amount of output you are asking for and instead make sure you are giving students a flood of language input. Just like you can’t get water out of a dry sponge, you can’t get language out of a student who hasn’t acquired it yet.
  • Cultivate a culture of mistakes and realistic expectations: Let your students know that you don’t expect them to be perfect. Make sure you have given them ample input on a particular topic before you ask them to give output on it. Ensure they have seen the words/phrases/structures in many repetitions so that it becomes part of their own language and they can use it properly. I also tell my students that I want to know what they can do with the language they have and not what a computer knows.
  • Cultivate an environment of learning over grades: Make sure students know that you value the process of their journey of language acquisition. What you provide feedback on and what you grade shows students your priority. Some of us have requirements to meet, but LESS grading and more focus on interactions in the language may help here.
  • Circumlocution and Guided Lessons: Having a lesson about how to circumlocute and how to properly use a website like WordReference may discourage online translator use.
  • Honor Contract: Make it part of your class honor code. Give them clear expectations at the beginning of the year and have them sign a contract if needed and how you will proceed if translators of used. When would it be appropriate for them to use it and when would it not be. If you follow the above suggestions, this will hopefully be a moot point.


How do you deal with translators in your class? Write a comment below.


About SpanishPlans

Spanish Educator, with focus on acquisition Educator Enthusiast I love learning about and sharing culture.
This entry was posted in Discussion/Methodology, Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Why students use google translate and what teachers can do

  1. Gale says:

    I’m am actively trying to learn a language, and I still use google translate. I use it to double check whether I know how to translate something right, and I love the immediate feedback/correction. (And yes, I realize it doesn’t do as well with idioms and stuff, but still, it helps me out).

    While for a student who’s using it to skip out on things it can be keeping them from learning, it can be a learning tool for those who want to use it that way.

  2. John Simcox says:

    Like all new innovations, language translation tools online are as good as the method that uses them. If a student uses them to translate, in one fell copy-and-paste, yes it is cheating. If a student uses it to check likely correct sentences for minor flaws, it is definitely not cheating. We should consider banning paper dictionaries if any form of aid (beyond the teacher’s lessons) is considered to be a lazy crutch. I’m sensing from all this anti-Google Translate bias a fear of irrelevance by many teachers. Be aware that Google Translate Russian is over 99% correct. I wonder how many non-native instructors are at that level?

Share your ideas!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.