Saturday, January 25, 2014

Five Solutions for Online Translators in the World Language Classroom

As a French teacher, I hated and loved internet translators. 

  • Essays written in a native language, copied into translators, and turned in
  • The past subjunctive used in level 1
  • That in the past fifteen years, translators have improved
  • The accessibility and availability of this tool 
How I both worked with and avoided translators:

1.  In-class drafts.  Almost all first drafts of essays were completed in class, in a "quick write" form.  This no-pressure first draft gave students the confidence to use the language and take risks.  Students would write for ten minutes in complete silence; after ten minutes, I would give the entire class five minutes to ask questions to peers and to me.  Repeat cycle.  After peer editing and a quick proofread from me, the prof, students would write the final draft at home. When grading, I would require students to turn in all drafts.

2.  Uncheatable homework.  Instead of the typical worksheets, I gave a variety of choices for homework that was largely optional. When students completed assignments at home, they were based on interest and choice, and without the pressure of "zeros," homework was rarely copied or completed with online translators.

3.  Teaching dictionary skills.  I found that one of the reasons students would use internet translators was because they wanted to say something but didn't know how to say it.  I spent a lot of time teaching students HOW to use the dictionary, which requires a series of steps. I would also teach students how to use an online dictionary such as  An assignment I created is below. 

4.  Setting appropriate expectations with students about writing.  Another reason students would use translators was because they were frustrated by their smaller knowledge of the target language as compared to their native language.  With writing assignments, I gave very clear expectations that students would only use words they knew, and would give bonus points for using a certain number of new things; this rewarded students for trying to find new expressions while also relieving the stress of trying to write in the same way in two different languages. 

5.  Translator analyses.  Finally, in level 1, I gave an assignment for students to compare internet translators.  This was based on an activity by Deborah Blaz, and allowed us to discuss when and how to use translators and WHY they fail.  This activity is also below. 

How have you handled the use of internet translators in your own classroom? 

Teaching Dictionary Skills

Translator Analyses


  1. This is great, Amanda! I especially like the translation 'rating' activity - cool. Gracias! I am going to share it with my department. :-)

    1. I am glad you like it! Thank you for taking the time to read this. I hope you had a great week at school this week.