Translating Google Translate: How Students Actually Use Machine Translation and What That Means for World Language Instruction

A talk for language educators and researchers


Executive Director, Berkeley Language Center

University of California, Berkeley


Associate Director, Berkeley Language Center

University of California, Berkeley

3:30 pm, Monday, September 25, 2023, on Zoom

Recording here


About the talk

Google Translate and other machine translation platforms can be a source of tension in language learning classrooms, with many instructors likening their use to cheating, laziness, and/or impediments to learning. This talk presents the findings of a research study that complicate these assumptions and provide implications for instructional practice.

We base this talk on a computer-tracking study that used screen recording and retrospective interviews to observe and understand how 74 world language learners (French, Spanish, Mandarin) actually used machine translation platforms while writing. While students across languages used machine translation tools extensively, their usage went far beyond “copy paste” to include complex analysis strategies. After presenting our findings, we suggest different approaches for language instructors and programs on how to address machine translation in the language classroom.

About the speakers

Emily Hellmich, PhD, University of California, Berkeley, is the Associate Director of the Berkeley Language Center. Her research focuses on the impacts of digital technologies on language, language use, and language education, with publications in the fields of education, applied linguistics, SLA, and technology-enhanced language learning.

Kimberly Vinall, PhD, University of California, Berkeley, is the Executive Director of the UC Berkeley Language Center. Her work explores how learners engage with cultural / linguistic differences through critical pedagogy, literary texts, and digital tools in order to consider the impact of this engagement on identity constructions, pedagogical materials and practices, and the development of intercultural understandings. She has published in the fields of applied linguistics, CALL, and SLA.

Sponsors: Language Institute, with the Second Language Acquisition PhD Program

Funding: Anonymous Fund, International Division

Contact: Jana Martin

The UW-Madison Language Institute is committed to inclusive and accessible programming. To request an accommodation for this event, please contact Language Institute associate director Jana Martin three business days in advance.