"To Google Translate or Not Google Translate"?

Hello colleagues, Do the English learners you know use Google translate in class? How about outside of class? Do you draw from this translation tool at times? If so, how useful have you and the learners found Google Translate? Translation can offer cognates that learners are familiar with and, thus, enabling them to readily build vocabulary.

A recent article by Amanda Guarino and Angello Villarreal takes up the pros and cons of Google Translate especially for learners who have had limited formal schooling in K12 contexts. The issue is that learners with limited reading skills in the primary language may not recognize words due to limited background knowledge. Many adult ESL teachers also work with learners who have had limited prior opportunities for schooling.

The authors recommend that teachers use images to help learners to build their reading vocabulary. The authors offer creative ideas for introducing academic words such as biography, nostalgia, reminiscence and constellation by drawing from cognates, as appropriate, and using pictures. 

Do you have a favorite source for photos? Let us know your thoughts about Google Translate as well as the value of cognates in your teaching.

Take care, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition CoP


what an interesting article about the pros and cons of Google Translate.  In my personal experience, as an English learner myself, I prefer to use other tools like WordReference because it gives a variety of examples of the meaning of  a word, it also gives definitions of how a word is used in other countries, and examples of sentences.  Because the same word can have different meanings in different countries. Google Translate makes too many mistakes, and I don't think it is a good tool to learn a new language. 

I am effectively monolingual, so when I need to translate, I like to use DeepL instead of Google Translate. It has more limited language choices, but the translations seem? better.


I have 2 years of HS Spanish, so when I need to interact orally with a Spanish-speaking student, I can at least read the translations out loud, and if I can't understand the response, I can at least reformulate to a Yes/No where I can get the gist of the response.

An Armenian student has complained about the quality of the translations from Google Translate.

---Amy West

Thanks for weighing in on this topic, Natalia. Would you be able to tell us more details of how you are using Google Translate with this unique group of learners? Can we assume the learners in your class have learned to read in their primary language?

Take care, Susan

I just updated my iPhone a couple of days ago (I am terrible about updating it with any frequency, so it had been a good while!), and a new Apple default app installed: Translate. I can see its value as a teacher but agree with several others above that it certainly lacks an "instructional" component via context and other examples. Great topic, Susan!