Google Translate - Friend or enemy?

I am currently working my second year as an upper secondary school teacher at a school in western Sweden. The pupils at this school come from all around the world and we always try to do our best to welcome them into the Swedish society. Many of them have come to this country as analphabets, and therefore their journey towards the Swedish language will be a bit longer.

One of my classes consists only of boys and girls from Afghanistan, Somalia and Syria. They are in Sweden due to circumstances many of us cannot even imagine, and my job is to teach them English and Swedish.

They are all very eager to learn, and I can see that it bothers them tremendously if they do not understand or if they make mistakes. All of these students turn to Google Translate for aid when they meet obstacles in their language learning.

Google Translate is an amazing tool in many ways, but what these boys and girls do not know, is that it is slowing down their development.

I am not saying that they should not use it; I use it myself from time to time. The difference between these pupils and myself is that I have a common knowledge about languages in general. I know that I cannot fully trust this tool to give me an exact translation of a text.
These pupils are not alone; there are many adults out there who trust Google Translate to the fullest. Allow me to give you an example of the miraculous work of this tool:

In Stockholm there is a suburb called “Sandsborg”. This is a name, and therefore it should not be translated, but if I would translate it it would mean “The sand’s castle.”

This just sounds hilarious, why would anyone live in a sand castle? You would think that this person is crazy!

But this is the interesting part, because Google Translate is actually very intelligent. Then why does it not know that Sandsborg is the name of a place in Stockholm?
Well, because I have not shown Google Translate that it should consider “Sandsborg” a name. How do I do this? Watch:

Names should A-L-W-A-Y-S be written with capitalization in the beginning, otherwise it is not a name. Google Translate knows this, because it is very intelligent. It just needs its users to be equally intelligent.
I try do show my students how they can use this tool in an effective way, but we have a long journey ahead of us.

When it comes to perception, Google Translate can aid you to understand most of a written text. But please, do not count on it to do your production for you. Use it for translation for smaller stanzas or certain words, but please, always be critical. Make a habit of always double-checking if the translation really is correct. Make an effort to learn and understand grammar, it will be your best friend when you try to learn any language. Because grammar itself is a language, and when you speak it, you have a template. You just have to insert the language you wish to learn into the template.

Google Translate is your friend, but you also have to be a friend to yourself!

A teacher

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