The Role of Translation Tools in the World Language Class: Expectations and Considerations

The world language program values the integration of technology and tools that enhance students’ learning. We want students to benefit from every opportunity to have accessibility tools as needed for them to successfully learn another language matched to their individual needs and learning styles. 

However, some tools, such as electronic translators or Google Translate, can lead to students using these in lieu of creating their own work in a world language. The need to process vocabulary and grammar within context by creating original ideas and messages leads to the goal of language proficiency. Students must create their own work in order to apply the vocabulary and grammar to contexts—the vital daily practice that leads to developing skills. Writing something in English and then having a digital tool translate it for them will not build these skills. To learn a second language, students need to build their repertoire of vocabulary and rely on their memory and class practices to apply language skills for them to effectively acquire another language as an adolescent. The use of translations software and devices hinders development and growth in learning a language as students become over-reliant on them.

Using an electronic translator on a regular basis appears to be a “quick fix” and short-term remedy in lieu of creating one’s own work but results in little to no progress in “real life” communication in a language and is a form of cheating. However, student and parents may ask and wonder, I thought I was able to use a dictionary or device to translate a word or phrase and look up a definition, what is the difference?

The answers to these questions may be complicated to differentiate, and therefore, the following information is being shared here to help provide some clarity and understanding to students and parents.

Please keep in mind that, foremost, our goal as educators is to model and expect ethical, moral, and legal behaviors on the pathway to providing all students programs of studies to enrich their knowledge, broaden their thinking, and develop skills in order for them to become respectful and good global citizens prepared to enter the workforce and their communities successfully.

In order to provide insights and guidance to students and parents regarding the uses of electronic translators and devices and to provide a clear policy with respect to authorized and unauthorized situations, the following guidelines apply Division-wide in world language classes in Prince William County Schools (PWCS) and are consistent with the national world language profession’s position and practices at this time.

First, with respect to cheating and plagiarism, it is necessary to define the terms, for example: 

Webster’s Dictionary defines cheating as follows:

  • To deceive by trickery
  • To mislead
  • Fraudulent acquisition of another’s property

Webster’s Dictionary defines plagiarism as follows:

  • To steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own
  • [To] use (another's production) without crediting the source
  • To commit literary theft (present as new/original an idea/product derived from an existing source)

Second, in general, students are expected to do their own work whether it is homework, assignments, projects, and/or tests, whether oral or written. This is the definition of cheating and plagiarism cited with our PWCS Code of Behavior:

Cheating and Plagiarism - Students are responsible for neither giving nor receiving assistance (written, orally, or otherwise) on tests, examinations, final evaluations, or class assignments that are to be graded as the work of a single individual. Cheating includes the giving or receiving of a computer file, program, part of a program, or other computer-based information without specific teacher direction or approval. Cheating encompasses any violation of rules where the violation involved dishonesty.

The parent will be contacted, and the student will be appropriately disciplined for academic violations. Schools shall incorporate the use of an honor pledge in their efforts to emphasize the importance of honesty. The implementation of this pledge shall be at the discretion of the principal.

Plagiarism is a form of cheating. Students are responsible for giving due recognition of sources from which material is quoted, summarized or paraphrased, as well as to persons from whom assistance has been received.

While a student may ask the teacher, parent/another adult, or a classmate for help with how to come up with an answer, the student should not copy answers from someone else’s paper nor receive the oral answers or dictation of an answer from anyone else. This includes use of any other device to create a translation, or a verbatim response not originally created by the student in the world language.

What is Google Translate and how will teachers know if it is used?

Google Translate provides a literal translation of text. Literal means word for word and not being able to discern the context in which words are being used, a vital part of correct interpretation and communication. For example, many expressions in English are called idiomatic expressions and cannot be translated word for word. A few are: It is raining cats and dogs; I am pulling your leg; or I am in high spirits today. Therefore, Google Translate will often give nonsensical translations, not representing the original meaning.

In addition, teachers are immediately able to identify the use of electronic translations because the language used falls outside the language taught in the classroom. Teachers know what vocabulary and grammar students have been exposed to and can anticipate student errors. When complex language is used that has not yet been taught in the curriculum, unless they are native/heritage speaker students, this will trigger suspicion that the product is not the student’s own work. 

Therefore, the use of Google Translate, or any other digital translator, for use with full sentences or paragraphs is not acceptable or authorized throughout the profession. The only acceptable use of digital or print resources is in the case of looking up a single word via traditional dictionary, class textbook, or the online resource, Word Reference. Use of these resources are directed by the teacher, limited to classwork such as projects, and are not to be used on any form of assessment.