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Online Translation - French Class Project

Help students understand why not to use online translators


Online translators can be a blessing or a curse. If you don't speak a word of a foreign language, an online translator can give you the gist of a web page's meaning. However, the translation will likely be full of errors and strange wording. French students may be uninformed about these online translation problems and may try to get away with using one in order to lessen their workload. This project can help them understand why it's not a good idea from a linguistic point of view, and also - for teachers who are looking for a way to discourage online translator usage - let them know that you won't tolerate it.

This project can be adapted for any level - just create your own sentences appropriate to your students' level.


Test an online translator and indicate the problems encountered.


Hand out a worksheet with the sentences to be translated and an introduction such as "Please understand that using an online translator is, in my eyes, tantamount to cheating. I would certainly rather you write to me five sentences that you translated than a hundred sentences that a computer program translated for you."

Instructions for students
  1. Open a blank document in Microsoft Word. In the header please put your first and last name and the date (in French).
  2. Type the following sentences into Microsoft Word, making sure that you insert all of the accents (see accent lesson).
    • Il y a de la neige en Afrique ? Mais oui ! Voilà une vue superbe de la vallée d'Ourika au pied de l'Atlas, une chaîne de montagnes en Afrique du Nord. Ce petit village isolé est situé au Maroc. Remarquez le minaret de la mosquée. Les Marocains, qui parlent arabe et français, sont des musulmans.
    • L'île Maurice est dans l'océan Indien à l'est de Madagascar. Ces petites Mauriciennes sont dans la cour d'une école primaire à Port-Louis, la capitale de l'île Maurice. Ici on parle deux langues : le français et l'anglais.

  3. Find an online translator. Copy a sentence into it and have it translate the passage from French to English.
  4. Skip two lines and paste the resulting translation into Word. At the end type the name of the translation service that you used.
  5. Read through the translation, underlining the errors and oddities that come from an online translator.
  6. Skip a line and type a paragraph that explains why you think it would obvious to your teacher if you used an online translator for a homework assignment.
  7. After your paragraph, skip two more lines and type the following:
    "I understand (name of teacher)'s policy on online translators. I agree that I will not use an online translator for assignments in his/her class, without his/her prior knowledge and consent. By signing below I acknowledge that if I use a translator on my assignments that I will be dealt with according to (name of school)'s policy on cheating."
  8. At the end of that please skip five lines and type your name and the date. Please print out this assignment, sign above your name, and return to your French teacher.

  • Choose your own sentences which reflect the level of your students. Try a few sentences in an online translator to find some that lead to obvious mistakes.

  • In addition to underlining the errors, you could ask more advanced students to explain why they occurred.

  • Have students use two or more online translators and compare the resulting translations.

  • Ask students to do a reverse translation by pasting the result (English) translation into the translator and translating it back into French.

  • For more detail, have students read my article on online translation.

Notes and acknowledgments

Until students understand the flaws inherent in automatic translation, they will continue to use it when pressed for time. This project should make it clear to them why this is a bad idea.

The online translation project was shared by Amandamyton on the Profs de français forum, where French teachers from all over the world colleagues discuss everything from making lessons interesting to dealing with problem students. Visit the forum to trade ideas and tips with your virtual colleagues.

Notes from the author, Amandamyton
  • My school is in Virginia, and we're required to teach certain technology standards. This meets several.
  • I also use this to teach my students how to type the accents on the computer (and it's great practice for my upper level students).
  • After assigning this project, we had a class discussion about whether we thought it was right, wrong, etc. I was surprised that, before this assignment, many of my students didn't think that using a translator was at all wrong!

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