Translators are programs that convert text written in one language into another language. While some translators apps are integrated with language teaching programs others are are available in stand-alone products or apps that do not offer instruction or feedback. Most early translators required a user to paste text into a translator app, while newer models (including mobile apps) include translators that display an overlay of translated text over a scanned image; Google translate is very popular. Other types of translators include in-ear translators that offer a machine translation in real time, such as the Pilot and Bluetooth earpieces. These work best for dialogue between two people, but in classroom settings could be used by one student and teacher in the context of whole-group learning or lecture-style learning.
Although the majority of these technologies are developed for adults—travellers and businesspeople—rather than young students, they are by their nature somewhat accessible to individuals who have moderately or extremely limited decoding skills, fluency, vocabulary, and other foundational communication and verbal skills. Those that are designed well for a range of users are therefore suitable for students in L2 classrooms. Independent translator devices are available on the market and more appropriate for students who do not have other mobile devices; most of these individual translator techs are pre-set between two languages.
Several studies on the role of apps in translation and in language-learning acknowledge two complex factors on their use. One is that language teachers often hold the belief that technology that provides too much translation will disincentive students from learning a language, and will lead inexperienced speakers to make errors (Bahri & Mahadi, 2016). Another, which may answer the concerns of the first, is that students rarely use only one language-learning app, and their language acquisition resources include a battery of other tools and environments for practice and exposure (Bomhold, 2013; Levy & Steel, 2015). For students to gain reliable communicative skills, translator apps will only play a limited role.
While some research has been done of the factors that impact translator use, their efficacy in giving english-language-learning students access to the school curriculum have yet to be completed.
Research Rating: There is limited research on this topic, though the research that has been completed is experimental in nature.
Can be useful for converting small amounts of simple text into a student first language.
Often fail to preserve complex sentence structure, verb conjugation, and grammar during translation.
Not suitable to directly convert entire texts into
Does this product include electronic language instruction and/or practice. If so, is the instructional interface navigable, are the sound and image quality sufficient, and is interaction with other users is facilitated by the app. With an individual student in mind, consider if the instructions and feedback provided are clear, useful, accurate, and at a level and pace appropriate to the student using them.
While these techs can help with simple sentence translation, to ensure accurate translation for large or high-urgency documents consult with a professional translator service.
Special Consideration: Workflow
Exact prices change frequently, which is why only approximate ranges are listed.
$ - Under $5
$$ - Between $6 and $50
$$$ - Between $51 and $250
$$$$ - Over $250
Bahri, H., & Mahadi, T. S. T. (2016). The Application of Mobile Devices in the Translation Classroom. Advances in Language and Literary Studies, 7(6), 237-242.
Reese Bomhold, C. (2013). Educational use of smart phone technology: A survey of mobile phone application use by undergraduate university students. Program, 47(4), 424-436.
Levy, M. and Steel, C. “Language learner perspectives on the functionality and use of electronic language dictionaries.” ReCALL 27(2): 177–196. 2015 doi:10.1017/S095834401400038X
Rosell-Aguilar, F. “State of the App: A taxonomy and framework for evaluating language learning mobile applications” Calico Journal 34(2): 243-258. 2017.
Written by Mira Kates Rose, Last Revision May 2018