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How to Use Google Translate to Teach English

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Imagine this: You are teaching English to a group of Spanish speakers, but you don't speak Spanish. The group is having difficulty understanding the present perfect tense. What can you do? Well, traditionally most of us have done our best to explain things in simple English and provide numerous examples. There's nothing wrong with this approach. However, as many Spanish speaking English teachers probably know, it can be helpful to quickly explain the concept in Spanish. Then the lesson can turn back to English. Instead of spending fifteen minutes trying to explain the present perfect in English, a one minute explanation has done the trick. Still, if you don't speak Spanish - or any other language that your students speak - what's a teacher to do? Enter Google Translate. Google Translate offers the most powerful, free online translation tools available. This English teaching helps and tips article focuses on using Google Translate to help out in difficult situations, as well as provide ideas on how to use Google Translate in class in lesson plans.

What does Google Translate Offer?

Google Translate offers four main tool areas:


  • Translation

  • Translated Search

  • Translator Toolkit

  • Tools and Resources

In this article, I'll discuss how to use the first two: Google Translate - Translation, and Google Translate - Translated Search in class.

Google Translate: Translation

This is the most traditional tool. Enter text or any URL and Google Translate will provide a translation from English to your target language. Google Translate provides translation in 52 languages, so you'll probably find what you need. Google Translate translations are not perfect, but they are getting better all the time (more about this later).

Ways to Use Google Translate - Translation in Class


  • Have students write short texts in English, and translate them into their original language. Using Google Translate for translation can help students catch grammatical errors by spotting these errors in the translations.

  • Use authentic resources, but provide the URL and have students translate the original into their target language. This will help out when it comes to difficult vocabulary. Make sure that students use Google Translate only after they have first read the article in English.

  • For beginners, ask students to first write short texts in their mother tongue. Have them translate into English and ask them to tweak the translation.

  • Provide your own short text and let Google Translate into the class' target language(s). Ask students to read the translation and then try to come up with the English original text.

  • If all else fails, use Google Translate as a bilingual dictionary.

Google Translate: Translated Search

Google Translate also provides a translated search function. This tool is extremely powerful for finding accompanying content to help students take advantage of authentic materials in English. Google Translate provides this translated search as a way to find pages written in another language that focus on the search term you provided in English. In other words, if we're working on business presentation styles, using Google Translate translated search I can provide some background materials in Spanish or any other language.

Ways to Use Google Translate - Translated Search in Class


  • When stuck on a grammar point, search on the grammar term to provide explanations in learners' mother tongue(s).

  • Use as a means to provide context in learners' mother tongue(s). This is especially useful if students aren't familiar with the topic area. They can become familiar with some of the ideas in their own language as well as in English to help strengthen the learning experience.

  • Use translated search to find pages on a particular topic. Cut and paste a few paragraphs out, have students then translate the text into English.

  • Google Translate translated search is fantastic for group projects. Often you'll find students don't have ideas, or are not sure where to begin. Sometimes, this is due to the fact that they aren't too familiar with the subject in English. Let them use translated search to get them started.

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