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Language Learning and Teaching with Technology

Language Learning and Teaching: Google Translate

Привет, спасибо, что нашли время прочитать этот блог.

If you don’t speak Russian, what’s your go-to tool to deal with this sentence? Google Translate is this very tool for more than 500 million people, and if you know of a better tool that works across 109 languages, please let me know. Google Translate is a free software application that can be accessed online, via its own mobile app, as a Chrome extension or embedded in a website. For me, it just keeps getting better and better.

Google Translate (GT) is an incredibly powerful tool not only for translation but also for language learning and teaching. Since I work with people who come to the United Kingdom in order to live, learn, and contribute to society, I can confidently state this.

Before I unpack an acronym for a consequential further education provision - ESOL - let me elaborate on Google Translate in a few more details, including its uses and impact on learning a language.

GT is best used with a Gmail account and accessible through Chrome App Launcher aka “Waffle”. GT allows the user to translate words/sentences/paragraphs, listen to check pronunciation and add words to a “favourite” list. As long as you’re logged in to your Google account, you can access your word list on any device. Moreover, by utilizing voice typing, you are able to check if you pronounce the words/sentences correctly.

Another great advantage of voice typing is that it enables you to speak the words in your language if you only have an English keyboard. Here is my voice typing in Russian (no sound though), since there's no Russian keyboard on my Chromebook. This method is a lot faster than searching for a keyboard online.

Google Translate

So what comes next?

Whenever I use certain words, phrases, or sentences, how could I practise and extend my knowledge? A solution is to create a favourites list that allows me to sort by date or alphabetically and also export the list to Google Sheets. (Woohoo! Now I can export to Quizlet and Quizziz to create flashcards and quizzes!) If I were a student, I would share the Google Sheet with my teacher so s/he can embed some of the vocabulary into the lessons to help me to retrieve and consolidate my learning.

Active learning occurs when your learners understand the benefits of GT and how to apply them. The learning and practice of language are promoted through the use of new words in context. GT helps to expand vocabulary and build confidence in speaking, it takes learning to the next level by enabling learners to take ownership of their chosen vocabulary, methods of learning, place and time.

Although GT is an extremely useful tool for language learning, especially at lower levels, the accuracy is not always 100% and there is controversy amongst teachers regarding its usefulness at higher levels. However, the advantages of this type of “machine learning” are it is:

  • free, quickly and (relatively) reliably translates texts to and from 109 languages

  • simple to use and accessible on any device

  • app enables users to download languages to use offline

It is my sincerest hope that I have done enough to advocate for GT, so please try it yourself and share it with your students who might benefit from it. Google Translate (as any other edtech) is not a teacher; it is merely a tool. While technology cannot replace teachers, edtech tools, selected judiciously can enrich, support, and enhance learning. Our ESOL department demonstrates it in daily practice.

"What is ESOL?"

The following is an echo of a recent blog entry by a fantastic ESOL teacher Isla Flood.

“We don’t just teach a language: we provide the keys to access a whole set of doors that open up so many opportunities as well as basic needs”- Isla Flood

The ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) sector is a huge and vital public service in the United Kingdom. “Last year, there were 180,000 enrolments on ESOL qualifications and many more ESOL learners on other English courses”.

ESOL helps people from all over the world learn English and acquire the necessary skills to enable them to fully participate in their communities, modern society and maximise their life opportunities. With second-chance education, ESOL courses provide life-changing opportunities for those in need. Even more than this, ESOL is well known for its special, diverse and caring people who put the needs of their learners before their own. I know for sure as I was one of those learners myself, and now I am paying it forward with the same enthusiasm and commitment to enable my students to become successful, accomplished, and enjoy learning. One difference maybe is that when I was an ESOL student, the digital skills were not as pertinent as now. As an educator myself, I am a great believer in integrating language learning with digital skills that promote 21st-century skills such as communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity. A set of “Life Skills” necessary to survive and do well in today's society.

ESOL is a part of the ‘Skills for Life’ qualifications launched in the UK in 2001, which is aimed to improve students' English language proficiency and understanding. Skills for Life courses stress practical skills that are essential for everyday living; however, the skills needed in 2001 were different from those of today.

There is a divide between ESOL practitioners: some argue that ESOL learners come to us to learn English, not digital skills and that the teachers are not trained to deliver those.

  • Is it necessary to deliver an essential part of daily life for so many people? Would you rather deliver or embed?

  • What if we integrated technologies discreetly into the learning activities so the students apply them outside the classroom?

  • What if we teach our ESOL beginners to use Google Translate and other tools effectively and efficiently so that they can enhance and personalize their learning - wouldn't that be great?

I passionately advocate for embedding digital skills and tools that the students are already familiar with into every ESOL programme. I strive to create opportunities in every lesson to ensure that my learners develop their language skills and the essential digital skills that promote independence outside the classroom walls. I’m convinced that it’s our moral duty to provide our students with the practical skills and tools they use in their day-to-day life such as checking bank accounts, buying a bus ticket, booking an appointment, filling in an online form, communicating with a school/employer via email, you name it.

If you need some ideas on embedding a variety of edtech tools into your teaching, I recommend starting with the Education and Training Foundation (ETF). ETF is rapidly investing in supporting teachers to learn new digital skills and to make use of educational technology. Teachers can take the ETF’s self-paced, bite-size courses (10-15 minutes) to learn and develop their digital skills as well as gain practical, ready-to-use ideas on how to incorporate technology in almost every subject.

Let’s create that ripple effect together to enable our learners to develop the confidence, skill set and abilities to participate in 21st-century life and workplace through the development of our own technical abilities, creativity and collaboration. Please get in touch to collaborate, share ideas or simply for a chat @AleksandraHouse.

Aleks House, headshot

Beginning with Entry-level 1 English, Aleks earned her level 6 qualification in Teaching & Professional Development. She has been teaching ESOL for over ten years and now works at one of the most successful ESOL departments in the UK. Aleks is a Google Certified Educator and Trainer and is in pursuit of Google Certified Coach status soon.


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