Opening the World with Google Translate

Today’s Contributor: Lisa Wenske

Lisa teaches 1st Grade in Austin, Texas.  She enjoys running and movies.  ☺

As our world enjoys technological improvements and advancements, our classrooms have become increasingly diverse.  It’s become quite usual, indeed, to have students in one classroom who speak many different languagesmaking ESL instructional support more powerfully implicative for the success of each student, as well as the success of the class as a whole in helping students learning English feel more included, important and valued.

Though I’ve used the Google Translate website for a few years to quickly and easily translate items for students who spoke languages other than English, it was a bit difficult to obtain much feedback from the learner aside from a head nod or shake to ascertain whether the website’s translations were understood. I’d type a math word problem, instructions for a task, or simple conversational or procedural explanatory remarks, allow the computer to voice over the message in the student’s native language, and patiently await a yes or no look or gesture from the child.  This seemed to work well as it gave students more insight into what was happening in our classroom and what was expected of them in regards to work, friends and citizenship.

As I introduced a student who is learning English to our Librarian last week, the Librarian told me that she’d learned about Conversation Mode within the Google Translate App (downloadable on iOS devices and available on GooglePlay) from a wonderful Campus 3rd Grade Teacher.  I downloaded the app immediately. The very next morning, though it took a couple of attempts, a bit of begging, and finally, a couple of demonstrations from another child who also spoke a language besides English–my student who is deemed an ELL this year smiled slightly.  

So, I spoke in English into the app.  The app translated what I’d said aloud into Mandarin Chinese.  The app also wrote out my message in Mandarin as it spoke my message to the student.  My student looked at me somewhat suspiciously; and then after pausing, reluctantly spoke in Mandarin Chinese into the app, answering my posed question.  The app translated and spoke the student’s message to me in English, and, hence the child and I began our first real “conversation,” which included reciprocal talk that went back and forth between us.  Admittedly, it took a few practice trials, but within 4-5 exchanges, the child who had previously spoken almost no words aloud in English to us so far at school, communicated all sorts of her ideas to me and our class using the Google Translate App.  She told about items she enjoyed and her previous nation, which allowed me to find and share pictures from her former country. This helped us reach a new level of mutual understanding, and probably most importantly, this seemed to make the child happy. 🙂  Since then, we’ve used the app, all day, daily… Students use the app to communicate academically and socially with our student who is very new to English, and I use it in the same regard as well.  

Google Translate and Conversation Mode might just be my absolute, new, most favorite thing.  It changed everything for a student, our class and myself this school year, and I can’t wait to see what will come next.

Image/Data Source:

Good luck, and thanks!!!  

lisa ☺


    1. Vanessa, as always, you are a TRUE INSPIRATION to me and so many others all around the nation. I completely appreciate and cherish your words! 🙂 Thank you!!

  1. This is awesome! I use google translate a lot to connect with my family in the Dominican Republic. My sister is heading there today. And, I was able to text her about this new feature so that she will be able to communicate better. Thank you!

    1. Along those same lines, I realized after using the tool in class–that it could be super helpful for my parents and family members who often interact with people who speak languages other than English via their business. I shared the information with them as well. Life-changing! 🙂 I’m glad to hear that this also helped your family. 🙂

  2. Thank you for sharing this feature. I use Google translate frequently for written communication, but did not know about conversation Mode. We have a new student who speaks Arabic and this will allow her to express herself at school. Can’t wait to share with our teachers.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing this tool! I was not aware there was a conversation mode! I have several new comers this year. This will tremendously help us communicate and build relationships! Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    1. Thanks, Kaeli!! I hope it’s ending up being helpful to you and to your students. Can’t wait to see what’ll be available in the future… 🙂

    2. Thanks, Kaeli! I hope all has turned out well this year! I can’t wait to see what type of new features are headed our way–hopefully, they’ll be amazingly helpful, just as this has become. 🙂

  4. This is awesome! Most of our ELLs speak Spanish, but I know one of our PreK teachers has been struggling to communicate with a new student who speaks Farsi. I will definitely pass this information along to her. Thanks for sharing.

    1. I hope it’s been helpful! GoogleTranslate has definitely made a dramatic difference in my classroom this year. Thanks! 🙂

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