Fighting the menace of google translate

I’m going to be up front here.  I’m not a fan of google-translate.  I’ve tried various techniques over the years to get students to avoid it and here they are.  I have seen arguments such as: “I only use it for single words” or  “it’s ok for short phrases if the students can explain the grammar”.  I have to say I completely disagree as they are not producing the work themselves.  It is the languages lesson equivalent of copying and pasted a flawed Wikipedia article and presenting it as your work on the life of Leonardo da Vinci.

My all-time favourite use of the website was a student who handed in this perfect piece of work in Dutch.  They wholeheartedly admitted their use of google for their German homework, failing to realise that Dutch and Deutsch are two very different things.

1) Point out how ridiculous their work sounds. 

Malinda Kathleen Reese on youtube is excellent.  Whilst she sends her long lyrics through several layers of google, it still makes the point that machine translation is extremely fallible.  Current favourites with classes include “let it go” and “do you want to build a snowmale?”  If you can tolerate the tune in your head all day then do it.

Update: she’s produced this…

2) Don’t tolerate it.  Sanction it.

I’ve always taken the approach that typing it into google and hitting print is like getting a friend to do your homework for you.  You know you shouldn’t and therefore don’t.  They will learn quickly.  Make them do it again is always a good policy.  Mention that you do not tolerate it in the first few lessons of the year .  Some will try and push this.  When you sanction it; it will put off the others from trying.

3) Drill them in modal verbs and infinitives on a half-termly basis.

Germanists will be familiar with modalverben.  If you teach Spanish or French then consider phrases that you can start a sentence with that require an infinitive.

Je peux / Je dois/ Je voudrais / J’aime etc

Quiero / Me gusta / Suelo / Solía  etc

My old German teacher used to start every lesson with a 20 minute drill of verbs and modal verbs in all sorts of tenses.  They built up over time.  She would use silly sentences or translations and a variety of activities but it got our verbs sorted.

4) Teach them to use verb tables and have a big wall poster explaining how to look up verbs.

This could save any amount of “yo jugar” pieces of work.  There is a superb resource on TES on this in the Spanish section but it could be adapted to French (less so German).  The resource involves a fairly well sequenced set of exercises and instructions on how to find verbs in a dictionary.  Equally you could take students into an ICT room and teach them how to use the verb conjugator on

I’ve found that a lesson on using verb tables helps but again it needs regular drilling.  Students also see it as hard work but if they understand the potential that it has then it can be effective.

2 thoughts on “Fighting the menace of google translate

  1. Pingback: Everyday Homework | Everyday MFL

  2. Pingback: European Day of Languages | Everyday MFL

Leave a Reply

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

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

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s