We’ve all been there: you’re grading a Spanish 1 or Spanish 2 writing or speaking task, and suddenly the student drops the imperfect subjunctive into their work. Hold up… WHAT? I didn’t teach them this. We haven’t seen this in class, not once. This must be the work of… Google Translate. Could be SpanishDict. Or DeepL – that’s the hot new translator, right?
It’s hard to be on the receiving end of a translated task. No matter how many times we remind them not to use translators, students do it anyway.
First, Consider WHY Your Students Are Using Translators.
Students Want to Be Right
One of the biggest reasons my students use translators is that they want their work to be right. I have to remind them that they’re still Spanish babies who have just started learning, and I don’t expect their work to be right. I want them to make mistakes and to learn from their mistakes as they grow, just like little kids learning a language for the first time.
They Don’t Have Time for the Task
Sometimes, our students just don’t have time for the task. They waited until the last minute, they spent their homework time prioritizing another class, they have sports – you name it, they focused on that other “thing” instead of jumping into their Spanish homework. This is one of the many reasons I extend deadlines, with proper communication of course, and allow resubmissions.
The Kids Can’t Express Their Ideas
Similar to wanting to be right, this one connects more with wanting to share complex ideas and not being sure how to share them. Students want to talk about big topics, they want to express their concerns or opinions, but they just don’t have the vocabulary yet. This is when I have to remind them to focus on what they know, not what they want to say.
Translators… Make It Stop!
Let It Impact their Grade
On my Level 1 Rubric (click here to grab it for free!) and my Level 2 Rubric (also here!), using a translator automatically drops two categories down to the 0-50 range. The reason is simple: I can’t give credit for work the student didn’t do. While the student might have written a beautiful news story in English, they lost credit the moment they ran it through the translator.
Students respond to grades. Parents do too. A student might jump in to defend their work, and you might hear from a parent when the student earns a low grade for the task. Be clear and calm about your reasoning. Give feedback like:
Remember to check wordreference.com for new words, as you’ll get the best options for the word you need. You can make your work even stronger by adding some details using vocabulary from previous themes that you’ve studied in the past.”
Honestly, I have that one copied onto a sticky on my computer so I’m ready to paste it into feedback any time I need. Feel free to borrow it and use this feedback in your own class.
Call Them Out
When it comes down to it, I call my students out for using translators. I speak with them privately during work time and focus on making it a supportive, casual conversation about their work and success. When we focus on student success, it’s easier to communicate and set action steps. We talk about why they used a translator (usually one of the reasons above), and we talk about possible solutions. I also remind them of vocab and structures we’ve studied, which helps provide a model of what they could rely on when they’re stuck.
Support Them in NOT Using Translators
There are a lot of ways to do this. Here are some of my favorites:
- Teach circumlocution (talking around a word)
- Co-write a story together, only allowing them to use familiar concepts to create and solve problems
- Shout out students who aren’t using translators, applauding their use of familiar words to express their ideas
- Provide structure and support for struggling learners (read more about differentiation here!)