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Google Translate is a fairly well-known online translation service that is fairly notorious for giving out-of-context or just incorrect translations for phrases or sentences. Google Translate does perform fairly well when translating single words, so is the only use for it as a single-word translator, or can it be used to learn grammar or more advanced sentences?

What, if anything, can Google Translate be used for when acquiring a language?

  • Any reason for the downvote and close vote? – fi12 Aug 18 '17 at 0:24
  • Basically, you are asking for a list (of useful features). List-based answers tend to be subjective: one would answer with A-B-C-D features, someone else would suggest A-C-X-Z, the third will raise a long discussion telling that A is not "useful" and C is not a feature at all, etc… While your Q is not that bad, I can understand why someone would think so. – bytebuster Aug 18 '17 at 8:32
  • What is the benefit or role of translation services (in general) in language learning? I have to admit I have never heard of this. If anyone can show they play a role in language learning, then this question may have value. As it currently stands, I am very sceptical. – Christophe Strobbe Aug 18 '17 at 9:11
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    My close and down votes are based on bytebuster's comment (or in other words, bytebuster is accurate). I feel quite rough by casting both votes but I really do think this question is quite broad – Anthony Pham Aug 19 '17 at 0:26
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    In today's world one should consider AI translators as one's own personal language learning "tutor", answering any language question put to it, be it for grammar, parts of speech, sentence structure, or vocabulary, and translation to-from the target language under study and the source language. From my own experience with the Google and Yandex AI translators (translate.Google.com and translate.Yandex.ru) I believe AI translators are as indispensable for today's language learning students as chalk and slate-blackboards were for language learning students in the past. – К. Келлогг Смиф Aug 19 '17 at 3:14
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I've used Google translate when reading a language where a I knew the grammar well enough, but the vocabulary in the text was too demanding.

I had the original text and the Google translate next to each other (in separate windows).

I first read the original language article and checked parts that I did not understand from the translated article.

My main goal was understanding the text. I did achieve that. Learning was more of a positive side effect; I did learn at least some new words, but did not systemically measure it.

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I use it a lot to reverse translate. If I think I know how to say something in my L2 but am unsure I will translate it back to English.

It also usually asks "did you mean...?" and alerts me if I have mistyped a word or phrase in my L2.

I then use the English translation to decide if I was correct or at least close in my L2 to use.

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Google Translate produces incorrect translation when phrases are either too short, or too long. My usage depends on the learning stage.

As a beginner

I study languages using Pimsleur method, which is mostly audio lessons. I know how to pronounce words, but not how to write them. At the early stages of learning I use Google Translate to find out how the words are written / spelled. Google Translate is very good with spelling corrections.

As an intermediate learner

  1. When I read text and stumble upon a word or an expression that I don't understand. I paste a small snippet of text into Google Translate. It's much faster than going through paper dictionary. It is especially useful in languages with many inflections, such as Slavic languages, where figuring out a normalized form of the word is laborious.

  2. When I chat with a native speaker in a computer chat (e.g, Skype). I may know what word I want to use, but I am not sure how to spell the proper inflection of the word (verb tense, plural/singular, masculine/feminine). Google Translate will produce the correct inflection if I type a snippet in English that has all necessary attributes (tense, plural case, etc.) in it. For example, don't try to translate "beautiful" from English to French by only typing the word itself. It may end up as "belle fille", "or "beaux arts", depending on the context.

In a summary, if you know what is likely to cause mistakes in Google Translate, you know how to work around that.

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Translate.google.com can be used in the same way as one uses the question and answer (Q&A) functionality of the program that you are using now, that is, StackExchange itself.

The two primary reasons for studying a language is to answer these two fundamental questions:

"What did he/she/it just say?", and

"How can I/we/they reply?"

When learning a language conventionally, one relies pretty much completely on the human brain to understand the first question, and then rely on that same brain to respond on the second question. Google is a computer-based media upon which the two questions can be much more easily translated in one language and replied with to answer the second question in addition to the brain of the language-learning student.

This process is defined as "artificial intelligence", "AI" for short, since an artificial brain (Google Translate) provides the intelligence to ask and answer these two questions in any two of the 50+ languages that Google Translate "knows". Therefore, by using Google Translate one can learn first to learn how to understand the language of the question, and then how to write one's answer to the second question in one's own native language.

By switching the input/output windows one can quickly learn whether or not the reader can understand your answer in that reader's own language. And if not, to continue to use Google to rewrite your reply in that language until the Google translation shows it to be likely that your reply will be understood not only by the reader, but by others as well.

There is a second attribute of Google that I believe is of very great value. In addition to Google providing a written translation of the first question, this second attribute is that a spoken translation is provided as well.

This spoken attribute is spoken in Google Translate is spoken alternately in two speeds -- a slow but normal talking speed on the first request, and then on a second request spoken at a much slower talking speed which, to me, is intended for learning or better understanding the pronunciations of the words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, and pages of text that can be written into the Google Translator's source language box and then read back over and over and over again until the user learns how to correctly pronounce all those words in the target language display box.

Over all then, my answer to your question is that the two basic functions in learning a language can be satisfied when one uses Google Translate (translate.google.com) to read and speak a language, and as well as asking and answering questions in StackExchange in the learned language .

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