In episode 88, Dr. Claire Knowles interviews Dr. Errol O’Neill about Google Translate in the first part of a two-part episode. In part I, Claire and Errol discuss what Google translate is and how it works, a bit about what the research says about its use in language classrooms, and why teachers might want to take advantage of its abilities to help students communicate effectively in the real world.

This week’s episode is part I of the interview. In part II next week, Claire and Errol discuss the training they do with students to help them use the various features of the tool.

Or listen on iTunes/the Apple podcast app, on the Google Podcast app, or on Stitcher!


Show Notes

We welcome feedback, resources, and diverse perspectives on this topic! To contribute to the conversation started here, leave us a voicemail or send a text message to (629)888-3398. Or you can follow us on Twitter @weteachlang or use this contact form to send us an email.

Claire Knowles is an online Spanish instructor primarily at Harrisburg Area Community College. She wrote her dissertation on online machine translation in the language classroom, and that dissertation won the 2017 ACTFL-NFMLTA/MLJ Emma Marie Birkmaier Award for Doctoral Dissertation Research in Foreign Language Education. Claire was previously a guest on the podcast Episode 9: Performance Assessment in a Fully Online College Spanish Course with Claire Knowles. You can contact Claire on Twitter @clairelknowles.

Errol O’Neill is an Assistant Professor of French at the University of Memphis and researches the use of online translators in the language classroom. He has published several papers on the topic which you can find on his website If you want to reach out to Errol, contact him via Twitter @errolmoneill or via the contact form on his website.


Resources mentioned in this episode…

…Claire and Errol referred to a study conducted by Clifford, Mornyei (2013). If you would like to know more, you can find a related presentation here, a Language Educator article here, and the paper here.

…recent Foreign Language Annals article by Ducar and Schocket

the works of Ana Nino who was also mentioned in this episode

Additional resources you might find interesting…

an online article about Google Translate’s accuracy

an academic article about accuracy


9 thoughts on “We Teach Languages Episode 88: Google Translate in the Language Classroom with Errol O’Neill, Part I

  1. I greatly enjoyed this article and made me reflect on how sometimes educators insist in a certain practice (such as forbidding online translators) without contemplating the benefits of it. I believe that WL educators in particular have this internal fear of losing control of the limited linguistic spectrum imparted in the classroom and we prefer our students to dwell in that restrained space. I am currently researching WL Ts’ attitudes and practices in mixed-classrooms (L2Ls and HLLs) and similar perceptions can be infer. WL Ts react negatively to Ss who can access linguistic proficiency through means other than their own instructional methods. Just a thought.
    In my classes, Google Translate is recommended for a variety of activities. It’s a great tool of differentiation, so that students who want to express more complicated thoughts, have a venue to do so. In the end, Ss know that their summative assessments are exclusively based on communicative practices (writing or speaking about a certain topic, or developing a conversation with me). Only those who have used Google Translate to support their learning, and not to control it, will be able to show the expected level of proficiency, which in the end, would be 80% of their final grade.

    1. I hadn’t thought of it that way before, martasilva04. I’ve framed the issue of allowing students to use Google Translate, and training them in how to best use it, as giving Ss the opportunity to make responsible choices in their learning. The flip side of the coin, however, is that students having more control over their learning — including whether or not to use GT — means instructors having less control, or at least the perception of less control.

      On the other hand, if instructors are the ones coming to students with information about online translators and how best to use or not use them, it may give instructors a sense of re-establishing themselves as the authority on language learning. Students still are making decisions that affect their learning, but the instructor is the one guiding them on Google Translate usage instead of competing with GT.

      I am happy to hear that you have found a way to allow your students to use GT to communicate while making it clear that they need to develop proficiency, not just use the translator to get through the task (which would not be helpful to their long-term proficiency or grade). Perhaps moving further towards basing grades on proficiency will have the side effect of encouraging students to learn from online translation instead of using it as a crutch.

  2. I was very interested in this episode, having recently resumed learning Vietnamese and discovering some new features in Google Translate that I hadn’t appreciated before – such as being able to handwrite the accent marks and diacritics on the screen to get the correct Vietnamese words. Teaching in a multilingual L1 class where I don’t know my students’ L1s, I don’t mind them accessing whatever help they have at hand, but agree as teachers we need to teach effective use of the tools, plus ethical use of them.

    And this episode reminded me why I just love the show notes in We Teach Languages, as I was able to so easily go to the research papers that Errol mentioned, including the training resources 🙂

  3. cioccascioccas, I’m glad to hear that your learners use tools like Google Translate to help with communicating. I can imagine when the instructor doesn’t know the L1s that it does make communicating more difficult, both between students and with the instructor. Recognition of handwriting and speech are additions that a lot of people still don’t know about. It would be interesting to find out all the different ways that instructors and their students are using online translators to help with their learning.

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