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Google Translate: just a “gadget” or a real language learning tool?

With more than one billion downloads, Google Translate is certainly the most widely used translation application in the world. It allows you to instantly translate words and even entire sentences into dozens of different languages. In addition to its “translator” function, the tool has several interesting features: voice input, listening to pronunciation, definitions, etc. What if using Google Translate to learn a language was a good idea? Find out how to take advantage of the different options offered by this tool to improve your language skills. 

What is Google Translate and can it be used to learn a language?

How does it work?

109. That’s the number of languages available in the Google Translate application at the moment. Even if it’s a far cry from the 7,000 (or so) languages spoken in the world, 109 is still an impressive number. English, Italian, Dutch, Arabic, Latvian or even Gujarati (one of the languages spoken in India)… you are most likely to find some languages of interest to you.

The tool works on the principle of machine learning: it feeds on the elements that users give it to translate in order to improve itself and propose the most relevant translations possible.

From the user’s point of view, the application could not be simpler and more intuitive:

  • you enter the text you want to translate (up to 5,000 characters),
  • you choose the language combination that interests you,
  • and you see the results of Google Translate.

You can use the Google Translator both on your computer browser and on the Google Translate mobile application.

Utiliser Google Traduction pour apprendre une langue
Using Google Translate: basic features

Advantages and disadvantages

As you can see, the main advantage is that you can translate texts or conversations in thousands of language combinations. But this tool also has its weak points!

The accuracy of its translations can sometimes fall short of expectations. Although the system is constantly improving, there is still room for improvement, especially for the so-called “rare” languages or those with a grammatical structure that is different to English.

For example, we do not recommend translating your business emails via Google Translate. Your recipients may not understand much of your message.

Problème de fiabilité de Google Traduction
The translation can sometimes be vague…

So you will always need to learn the languages to communicate with people of other nationalities. Google Translate won’t be able to do it for you. But the good news is that it does have a few options that can be useful in your language learning!

Using Google Translate to learn a language: 4 useful features 

1. Use voice input to improve your speaking

You can “talk” to Google Translate using the voice input option. Just click on the “microphone” button and say your word or phrase. This is a great way to improve your pronunciation!

Say a sentence to Google in your target language and if it translates it correctly into the translation tool, you have pronounced it correctly. If it doesn’t understand you or transcribes your sentence incorrectly, try to improve your pronunciation until the software understands you.

Exemple de saisie vocale sur Google Translate
Example of voice input

2. Use the handwriting feature to work on your alphabet

On the mobile application, you can practice writing in your target language.

This is especially useful for languages with an alphabet other than the Latin alphabet or with specific characters (e.g. sinograms for writing in Chinese).

Click on the “pen” icon on the top right side of the tool and write your word on your screen. Let me warn you: this exercise is much easier with a stylus!

Utiliser la saisie manuelle sur l'application de traduction Google
Example of the handwriting feature

3. Listen to the pronunciation of words you don’t know

Your 1to1PROGRESS trainer has advised you to read an article in English on one of your favourite subjects. However, the article contains some words that you do not know. To find out what they mean, you look them up in the dictionary. But how do you find out how they are pronounced?

Google Translate can solve your problem. Enter your word in the tool and click on the little loudspeaker. You will then hear the word as pronounced by a native speaker.

Utilisation de la fonction haut-parleur de Google Translate
Use the loudspeaker feature to find out how the words are pronounced

4. Learn new words and their definitions

Are you confused about the meaning of a word you’re seeing for the first time? Would you like to look up its definition? Learn some synonyms? Find out if it has multiple meanings? All this is possible in Google Translate.

The tool gives you the definition of the most common meaning of the word, and also its main translation and other possible translations according to their frequency of use. Finally, if there are synonyms, they will be listed under the definition. In short: Google Translate helps you expand your vocabulary!

👉 To go further: How many words do you need to know to speak a language well?

Google Traduction donne la définition des mots et leurs synonymes
Expand your vocabulary with Google Translate!

Technology and tools like Google Translate can be really useful for learning a language. But for your learning to be effective, it is important that the technology is used to support people (and not the other way around). Real-life trainers and a dedicated coach, for example, will be the real driving force behind your training.

Are you looking for a distance learning language course that has found the right balance between human and digital elements? Check out our offers!