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Pros: Allows translation of documents and entire websites, as well as words typed into the translation box.
Cons: Despite attempts at accuracy, translations are sometimes only workable, if not wholly inaccurate.
Bottom Line: While it's a very handy tool for basic translation and improved communication, it won't replace actually learning a language or using a human translator.
While Google Translate sometimes fails to provide accurate translations, it's a perfectly serviceable go-to translator for fast, in-class translation. Failed translations can even make a great whole-class activity if used as an opportunity to discuss. Show an example and have your students speculate why the translation might not be accurate; this exercise can be especially insightful when learning multiple-meaning words.
Individually, when students discover an inaccurate translation, encourage them to modify it and provide feedback. Not only will this help improve Google's translator, but becoming an "expert" can also help boost students' confidence. It might even be possible to build an assignment around an activity like this. More broadly, schools and teachers can use Google Translate as a helpful way to communicate with non-English-speaking parents, both through the audio feature and the ability to translate entire documents.
Google Translate looks simple. Just type in the words you want to translate, select the language you want to translate them into, and click Translate. Need to translate an entire webpage? You can do that here (provided your school's content filtering will allow it). Have a longer text or document? Simply save the file and upload it -- let Google Translate work its magic. You can also use a microphone to provide audio for translation, although the results here aren't always accurate.
Once the language is translated, you can opt to hear the translation aloud (for many, but not all, languages). With all translations, Google gives users the opportunity to improve the service by rating the accuracy or modifying the translation. In some cases, the translator also offers examples of a word in use, helping users to better understand the meaning of an unfamiliar word in context.
Whether you're teaching a world language course or working with English Language Learners, Google Translate can be a very useful tool because, among other things, it strives for accuracy. The ability to see examples of translations in context and the audio support are both great features -- when they work. In many cases, students may be able to improve their understanding of a language, as well as pronunciation.
Also, because it can translate entire documents and websites, Google Translate gives teachers a fast and easy tool for communication, not only with students but also with parents and the greater school community. Meeting people in their native language can go a long way to promote better participation and learning. When used with an ELL class, the site can help give kids access to learning content, as well as the ability to work at the level of their English-speaking peers.