Google Translate – a bridge across language barriers

Today’s contributor: Natalie Maul-Graham

Natalie teaches 5th-grade science at Pickle Elementary. She serves students with multiple home languages. She has found a technology solution to help her with this very human challenge.

Communication is the foundation of interaction within and between species. I have been fascinated with communication through art, architecture, literature, music, body language and speech.  My most recent communication adventure has been reading the words of people from around the world via digital formats. This would not have sounded rich and fascinating to me 4 years ago. But that has all changed. I began working at J.J. Pickle 2 and ½ years ago. I am certified as an ESL teacher and before Pickle, I had worked with students who either spoke English or Spanish. I have a rudimentary grasp of Spanish, so I thought bridging the communication gap with my students and parents was a challenge. Instead of just writing out instructions, parent letters, graphic organizers, etc in English, now I had to communicate in Spanish too. Okay, I worked through that with the rather clunky Google Translate and some kind friends. This was 5 years ago. Well, things have changed! 

Maybe you are one of the lucky teachers that gets to look and listen across your classroom and experience a brocade of color, texture, and sounds from around the world? If so, I know how lucky you are! In 4 years I went from 1 or 2 languages to 5 languages spoken in my one classroom. I thank my lucky stars for the advancement of Google Translate!

It is not perfect! Let that be said now. Let’s also say that it has improved GREATLY! Still, whenever I can I run my translated work by a native speaker to work out any mistranslation or syntax problems but when getting the basic message across is the goal it works! (No I am not being paid by Google!) 

Here are some ways that you can use this free and readily available tool to save your skin! Each of the following scenarios has happened to me.

Scenario 1 – I had laryngitis, but no sub.

Scenario 2- Welcome to the first week of school with 26 of 30 students that do not speak English and I needed to give instructions clearly, quickly and firmly.

Scenario 3- I had an emergency parent conference and the parent and student only spoke French or Swahili. (I am here with English and rudimentary Spanish, remember?)

Here is how to save your skin if you are ever in any of these situations!

  1. Using your laptop or cell phone, open up Google Translate. 
  2. Type in, or speak in what you needs to be conveyed, in your language of choice.
  3. Translate to another language(s) or leave in English
  4. Read! Or if you are communicating with a non-literate person, press SPEAKER!.Your computer or cell phone will read what you wrote out loud!  (Albeit in a mechanical voice.) Hook it up to the sound system and every student can hear and READ what you wrote!… in their own language. (not simultaneously, yet) My students LOVE this! Especially when I type fast (and make a few errors.haha!)  (Note- As of last year they didn’t have Tigrinya yet, but did have Pashtu!)

What was supremely helpful was the fact that I could meet at the moment I needed to, with my at-risk student’s dad, communicate clearly enough together in English and Swahili to come up with a solution until we could meet with the very kind and skilled live translator from the district. Google Translate (ie savior of the day) shared what we said back and forth. That student’s safety was addressed, an immediate and empathetic connection was created between myself and the family right then! Again, Is a live translator better? Yes, when available. But when not? Just go to Google Translate!

I suggest you “Google” how to use Google Translate! There is so much more available than I can fit in this blog post. (Translate Word docs and google docs that you have scanned or typed! Amazing!)

 My name is Natalie Maul-Graham. I teach 5th-grade science at Pickle Elementary and I have been given doorways of communication across what used to be language barriers!

1 Comment

  1. Thanks for the reminder! I just got a new student who is new to the country and have been struggling with my pitiful Spanish.

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