3 In Education/ Language

3 Tricks to Using Google Translate BETTER

As a Spanish teacher, google translate is my sworn enemy. It can be so practical and useful for regular humans who are not language students, but when you are in a language class, I promise your teacher gives you assignments so that your brain has to think, NOT so that your fingers have to type. (This is me NOT getting on my soap box. I’m holding back… for now.)

Language teachers have a very special super power of picking out the use of a translator in ANY written work turned in by a student. It’s a gift. For that reason, I must encourage you to use your textbook and brain before using a translator. UNLESS you are not trying to learn for a class. In that case, use these tips to make your translating MUCH better!


1. Be specific-

When translating between languages, the simpler the speech, the better!
Avoid colloquialisms, improper spelling and grammar, and be sure your exact meaning is clear.

Searching for specific words with an article or subject helps to clarify between parts of speech and avoid embarrassing mistakes that makes native speakers roll their eyes in disgust (jk. We just giggle.)
For example:   the record    vs.    I record.
Write in complete sentences, make sure they are correct, and use punctuation!

My favorite example is can. Spanish students across the universe learn how to say “I” early on, and soon they want to write I can for an assignment.
So, they try to type “can” into a translator because they already know “I”. The result of putting these things together should get them “I can,” right?     RIGHT?!

It gives them lata.
Lata is A can. A tin can, to be specific.

2. Know what you are looking for:

part of speech, type of word, etc.

This will help you determine if the translation you are being given is correct. This is especially helpful for language students. If you have learned that Spanish verbs end in –ar, -er, -ir and you are given a word that doesn’t, it probably is not the verb in the infinitive form.
For people who are not studying a language- try cross referencing it. Take a translated sentence and search it on the internet with “meaning” and see if there are other variations that are more common.
Example- Use google to translate the sentence “I am hungry.” from English to Spanish.
Translate gives you: “Estoy hambriento.
A quick google search of “Estoy hambriento.” Leads you to a forum where this phrase versus “Tengo hambre.” is discussed, and while both are correct- you will find that “Tengo hambre.” is more common!

3. Try a dictionary.

My favorite language dictionary is wordreference.com
When you search for a word, you can look at the different uses and options that may exist- helping you get exactly what you want. Then, if you need to use it in a sentence you can see if google will output it for you, when you are more specific.

Example: My students always ask how to say “ride a fourwheeler.
Search “fourwheeler” in Spanish on wordreference.com

You should find “cuatriciclo“.

Now, try googling translating “I ride a fourwheeler.
It gives “Monto en un fourwheeler.” While this would probably work, you could also make the choice to substitute the word you have found for fourwheeler- cuatriciclo.

Let’s put these ideas into practice!

Example letter:

Good morning,
I received your letter yesterday, and I am happy with your proposal. Thank you for your time! We will be in touch shortly with a contract to get the ball rolling.

Best regards,
Mrs. Johnson

BE SPECIFIC: Avoid colloquialisms, improper spelling and grammar, and be sure your exact meaning is clear.
“be in touch shortly” could be clearer
“get the ball rolling” is a colloquialism

Let’s replace those with:          We will contact you in three days to start negotiations.

“I am happy with…” is somewhat ambiguous. Could we be more specific?
Perhaps! I will revise this to- “I am satisfied with…” because it is more specific.

Good morning,
I received your letter yesterday, and I am satisfied with your proposal. We will contact you in three days to start negotiations.

Best regards,
Mrs. Johnson

Google translate this sentence by sentence from English to Spanish.
Good morning is such a common phrase, the translator should get it right.

“I received your letter yesterday, and I am satisfied with your proposal.”
I am satisfied is a phrase that has many varieties, and a proposal could be many things. Let’s cross reference!
Wordreference.com gives “satisfecho” as a reasonable translation for “satisfied”- and that is what google gives you!

And proposal- A business proposal is given as “propuesta” but an “offer” is “oferta.” There is room for consideration there- which is closer to your meaning?

The rest of your letter “I will contact you in three days to start negotiations” merits some searching and cross-referencing as well.
While the result from google “me pondré en contacto con usted” is valid, a quick search may give you that feedback and confidence, and while this sentence is good- I promise that not every output you receive from a translator will be correct, authentic or common.
Complete the same process with “to start” and “negotiations” and you will have confidently translated your letter.
Lastly, you could benefit from a quick search of “common greetings and leave-takings in target language.”
This list would give you correct options to use without worrying with a translator.

Happy Communicating!



  • Reply
    Tyisha Placko
    November 19, 2019 at 11:03 pm

    Great article. I’m dealing with some of these issues as well..

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