|Photo Credit: kconnors via morgueFile|
A fellow Google Certified teacher posted this question to our group last week and I have been turning over my response in my head ever since.
Using Google translate is a form of plagiarism. It's cheating and students who cheat on homework won't know the material for the test in class, nor will they have the language skills they need for life in a global society.
Long ago, my district used to block Wikipedia. Students used it at home, but at school we had no access to show them why it was not a good source. If you block translate language teachers will be in the same position. Students will use it at home, but at school teachers won't be able to demonstrate why it fails. (Our district has now unblocked Wikipedia and I teach students to use it as a source of sources.)
When my son was in 4th grade I had to have him practice his Math homework at the kitchen table, so I could be sure he wasn't plugging the problems into his calculator in his room. Google translate is the first instance of language teachers needing to cope with their equivalent of a calculator. But even as a very fancy calculator won't help you solve a complex problem if you don't know the mathematical reasoning to use it, Google translate won't help a language student without the knowledge to make the appropriate corrections to their translation.
If I were a language teacher I would require all at home writing to be done in Google Docs. The revision history would quickly tell me if a student was using copy/paste from translate. (See my post about detecting plagiarism.) Then I would give students translations in class and ask them to fix the mistakes. It should not take too many repetitions of that activity to convince them that Google translate is not perfect. Further, correcting translations is probably a very authentic task for a modern linguist.
Wikipedia isn't going away, essay selling sites aren't going away, calculators aren't going away, and translation apps are here to stay as well. It think it is a far better use of our time to adapt to technology moving forward than trying to stuff the genie back in the bottle. Further, blocking a tool with real, legitimate uses for teachers trying to communicate with diverse parent populations in many languages hinders our educational mission.
Google translate may require language teachers to change the way they assess, assign and support student learning experiences. They may have to rethink the how and why of their instructional practices. They may have to adapt. I'm okay with that.