How to Keep Students from Using Google Translate

“How to use Google Translate without getting caught” and “Can teachers tell if you use Google Translate” are much-searched questions on the internet. Oh no! What’s a world language teacher to do? It has always been important to steer world language students away from online translators, but now, with more instructors teaching remotely, it’s even more challenging. In this post, I will share ideas on how to keep students from using Google Translate.

I ran into this blog post, “Mr. Fortna’s Blog,” and I thought to myself, “Wow! I couldn’t have written it better!”

And this one by Speaking Latino  is worth reading, also.

However, this post isn’t meant to be a round up. I’d like to share with you what has worked for me in the past and give you examples you can actually use with your students to persuade them not to resort to this shortcut and to prevent translation.


First, at the beginning of the school year, while explaining your rules, talk about academic fraud. Describe it in detail. I say this because, even late in my career, my syllabus didn’t explicitly define what I MEANT by, “cheating.” The result was a student whom I KNEW was cheating received no consequences and a grade she did not deserve.

Grrr.  That was the last time THAT happened. So, I clearly explained, in writing, in my syllabus, what constituted academic fraud.

How to Keep Students from Using Google Translate


Another way to keep students from using Google Translate is to use humor to prove your point.

I start the year by showing a video of a song students are familiar with. They see what happens to the lyrics when they are translated using Google Translate.

Explain that, while Google Translate has improved, it still doesn’t know the difference between a verb, a noun, and other parts of speech. As a result, the meaning comes out twisted or humorous, but often, not at all what the students mean to say.

Show a video to demonstrate this point. Here are two that your students might relate to:

“Let it Go” from the Movie Frozen

“Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” after using Google Translate.


Students aren’t convinced yet? Tell them it’s obvious to any Spanish or French speaker that they’ve used Google Translate and you can prove it.


When students realize they can’t get away with it, they will be less likely to use it.

The video shows why it doesn’t work in Spanish, but you can show them in French or any other language. I recommend you play with it before you use it in front of the students to prove your point, because Google Translate is smart. If you put the same sentence in a second time, it will realize the first translation was incorrect and will spit out a correct one. (Don’t tell that to the students. Google Translate actually DOES work often. The important thing is, they don’t know enough to know when it IS and ISN’T working. But you DO.)


Prevent students from using Google Translate by explaining how the subjunctive will give them away.  In English, there are only one or two instances in which the subjunctive is used.

“I insist that you BE here tomorrow.”

As compared to,

“I insist you are here,”

which means, I am not imagining you are here because you are, in fact, here. The other use is for wishes or contrary-to-fact statements, such as in “I wish you WERE here.”

Beyonce had it right.

Most English speakers, however, aren’t aware of the subjunctive and rarely use it.

In French, the present subjunctive is used often. In Spanish the subjunctive is omnipresent.  Even four-year-olds use it because if they didn’t, the meaning of their message would not be conveyed.

There is the present subjunctive, the present perfect subjunctive, two forms of imperfect subjunctive, and two forms of pluperfect subjunctive, NONE of which Spanish One, Two, or Three students know yet. OK, maybe Spanish Three students have a rudimentary knowledge of this mood.

But Google Translate will spit out ALL forms of the subjunctive and you’ll know immediately they did not come from the students’ pool of knowledge, unless they are native, or heritage speakers who wouldn’t need to use an online translator anyway.


In my experience, it is a BAD idea to accuse a student of cheating. Even if you know he/she did.  Why? Because you will have to defend your position with parents without evidence. You already LOVE calling parents, right? NOT!

Since I cannot (successfully) accuse a student of cheating, unless I have the identical paper of the person from whom he/she cheated, I must out the student another way.  This is how I do it.

I find the sentence or sentences I suspect he/she has translated and ask him/her, “I’m trying to understand your paper. Can you tell me what this means?” And I read it to him/her.

When the student can’t tell me, I say, “You don’t know what it means? But you wrote it. Where did you get the sentence?”

When it’s obvious that he/she/she didn’t write it, he/she looks at me sheepishly and confesses, “Google Translate.” Or, “My sister/mom/friend/relative helped me.”

At that point, I tell the student one of two things. “Well, that’s academic fraud. I’m afraid I can’t give you credit for this assignment.” Or, “Come in and write it again, in my presence,” if I’m feeling nice (or cowardly). If you are teaching asynchronously, you may have to Zoom while the student writes.


Give students the URL for and show them how to use it. Look up a few words as a class. Show them how to listen to the pronunciation and how to find the words in context, how to scroll down and see them used in different expressions and with different prepositions.

I also show my advanced students how to use because it translates entire phrases and some idiomatic expressions.


If students are given a task that is beyond their ability to complete successfully, they will resort to Google Translate. Why? Because they want to succeed! It is the teacher’s responsibility to provide the students with the foundational tools to complete the task.

For example, when I told my AP Spanish students to prepare a dish from a Spanish-speaking country and to explain to the class how they did it, I gave them an extensive list of food and cooking vocabulary, including verbs. I also gave them links to example videos of native speakers explaining how they prepared a dish. Without those helps, no non-native student would have had the vocabulary to adequately complete that task.

When I told my Spanish Two students to write a story, I gave them an outline with sentence starters and transitional words as well as at least one model story to show them what proficient looks like.

Always give the students an example of what the completed task should look like, the necessary vocabulary, and any other tools they need to do the assignment.


Taking a day to discuss academic fraud and teach students how to use helpful tools is worth the time spent.  You will head off future headaches by being proactive.

I hope these tips will help you communicate to your students the importance of producing their own work, as well as the value of useful tools in helping them convey their message more clearly.

Are you teaching remotely or doing some version of hybrid teaching? You may want to check out the following posts:

How to Provide Comprehensible Input Remotely

How to Make Remote Teaching Easy with Go Formative

Three Videos on How to Use Google Classroom

How to Use FlipGrid for Distance Learning

If you are teaching remotely, you are working ten times harder than you were in the classroom. If you need a break, give this packet to the sub and self-refresh for a day: Spanish One Sub Plans. Its’ FREE!

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