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What’s so bad about Google Translate, anyway?

Written by Elisa Kirschhoffer, French Teacher and Instructor for Idioma 


Google Translate. What an amazing tool that can allow us to communicate with people in ways we couldn’t before! It allows us to break down communication barriers and better connect with people when we cannot speak the same language. It provides more opportunities for multilingual organizations to work together and provides a communication bridge for travel and commerce. There are so many real life applications for this remarkable tool. But what purpose does it serve in the language classroom? In a proficiency based French and Spanish learning classroom like ours, NONE

By now, you wonderful people know about my mistrust and dislike of Google Translate in the classroom. Ok, it’s more than dislike - it’s all out hatred to the point of calling the dreaded thing VOLDEMORT and forbidding its presence in my classroom or in any of your work! So why do I hate Google Translate so much?

Let’s start with how you’re using it in class. Anytime you’re going to Google Translate, you’re trying to get a phrase or even a whole sentence that you’re struggling to find on your own, right? That struggling feeling should set alarm bells off in your head that perhaps you’re just not ready for that phrase or sentence yet. You just don’t have the language yet. YET. Remember those proficiency skills we’re building? You will build the skills you need to say that phrase or sentence in time, but it’s ok that you’re not there yet! For now, I want to hear and read YOUR words IN YOUR OWN WORDS in French, even if what you’re saying feels too simple compared to how you could say it in English. When you were in Kindergarten could you write or speak like you do now? This is a similar experience: it’s like you’re in the Kindergarten of your French language skills. And that’s right where you should be. Bravo!

Let’s talk about how Google Translate is meant to be used, according to me. Google Translate is a SURVIVAL tool (and no, telling me that you’re trying to SURVIVE French class isn’t going to change my mind. It will make me roll my eyes and face palm). When you’re traveling in another country where you don’t know the language or culture, Google Translate is a great tool to help you get the things you need to survive, like food and shelter. It’s also a useful tool when you’re wanting to connect with someone who doesn’t speak English, like a co-worker or exchange student from a country OTHER than one where French is spoken. For you as a American student learning French in a classroom, you do not need Google Translate to survive. 

So what then? What’s an appropriate tool to help when you need a little boost or reminder while learning French in the classroom? My favorite LEARNING TOOL is Word Reference because it gives you lots of choices to help you make the best decision about what you’re trying to say. It’s a learning tool because using it helps you become more familiar with language so your proficiency grows, instead of giving you an answer (which isn’t always correct, anyway) and you gain nothing. 

So mes amis, let’s make good choices moving forward. No more survival tools. Focus on your learning tools and showing me what YOU can say in French! Your contributions and achievement in French is what I care about most!


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