Google Translate vs. The Telephone Game

Raising student awareness of the limitations of Google Translate.

Many of us rely on Google Translate as a tool to get through to the English language learners in our classrooms, as do many of the staff, students and parents in our community. It can be a fantastic support, enabling lesson modifications and differentiation that did not previously exist, but it is also important that it’s users understand it’s limitations. Automatic translations often subtly change the meaning of phrases, and when repeated those changes can accumulate for drastic results.

One way to demonstrate this is by using Translate to play the infamous “Telephone Game” (also known as Chinese Whispers). Rather than repeating a word or phrase to the person next in line to see what mistakes accumulate along the way, try changing between languages multiple times in Google Translate. In order to work properly, each phrase must be translated into a new language, swapped with the previous language, then translated again. Repeat enough times for interesting results!