As all ELL teachers know, Google Translate is certainly often a blessing, but can sometimes also be a curse.

I’ve dealt with the latter by asking students to just use it to translate individual words instead of sentences, and sometimes that request is respected – and often it isn’t (I’ve written more about this topic at The Promise & Peril Of Using Google Translate In The ELL Classroom).

Even when it isn’t, though, I do believe that English-learning can occur.  When talking to students, I sometimes compare it to Siri or Google Maps voice directions: If you just mindlessly obey the instructions, you’ll get to a destination, but won’t learn anything about the community or neighborhood.  But if you are aware of your surroundings as you follow the automated voice, you’ll learn to get to the place without using it.

Nevertheless, I do think creating “Google Translate-free” times can be helpful to students – and to teachers.  Student writing without Google Translate, in low-stakes settings, can be good formative assessments.

I’ve begun to post a basically blank Google Slides document regularly in Google Classroom, set to students can edit, with the first slide shown at the top of this blog post.  I display a photo from The NY Times Learning Network’s What’s Going On In This Picture, and then give students ten minutes to write about the photo on their slide.

I ask for them to promise not to use Google Translate and I place peer tutors at strategic locations to ensure there is no cheating. I don’t enforce absolute silence – I’m fine with students helping each other a bit.

The next day, I have students work on Quill while I bring them up to my desk for one-on-one conversations about what they did well and on an error or two. These assessments also highlight for me which grammar concepts I need to teach more explicitly.

It seems to be working well, and students actually seem to enjoy it.

I’d love to hear other ways teachers are working with students to reduce their dependency on Google Translate, while at the same time not “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”

Addendume: Zooming in on Machine Translation Use in L2 Online Classes: Reflecting on the Future of L2 Writing is a very interesting piece from FLT Magazine.