Monday, August 6, 2018

Google Tools for English Language Learners

Parlez vous Google? More and more it is becoming common for schools to serve students who do not speak English as their primary language. Thankfully there are many technology tools that can help bridge that gap and help increase communication and understanding.

These resources can include:

  • Translation tools
  • Speech-to-text tools
  • Text-to-speech tools
  • Dictionary tools
  • Summarization tools
  • Screencasting tools
  • And more!

Below you will find an overview of several tools to consider using with English Language Learners, or ELL students. I will continue to add new ideas to this list overtime, and would also love to hear suggestions from you. If you know of tools that have been helpful for ELL students, please consider sharing them in the comments at the bottom of this post.

Session Resources

Google Docs translate feature

Built right into Google Docs is a tool that will translate an entire Google Document into another language. This can be a useful way to have a second copy of a document in the reader's first language for comparison.
  • Click "Tools" then "Translate document"
  • This will open a window where you can choose the language for the translated document, as well as the title for the new Doc.
  • Finally click "Translate" to get the new copy of the document.

Google Docs translate add-on

Instead of translating an entire document, sometimes you may just need to translate a phrase or sentence. For those occasions you can use the Google Translate add-on for Docs.

  • First install the add-on in Docs by clicking "Add-ons" then "Get add-ons" then searching for the "Translate" add-on.
  • Alternately you can use this direct link - Add-on link
  • After installation, run the tool by clicking "Add-ons" then "Translate" then "Start".
  • You can now select text in your document, and which languages you want to translate from and to.
  • Finally click the "Translate" button to do the translation.

Instant search translate

For a quick translation, you can also use the Google instant search translation tool. This interactive tool allow you to type or speak, and then get a translation. In addition to translation, this can be a great tool to practice fluency.

  • Run a Google search for "translate".
  • This will bring up the translation tool.
  • In the box you can type or paste in the the original text.
  • Alternately you can also click the microphone icon to speak the text.
  • From the drop-down menus you can choose the languages to translate from and to.

Google translate website

For more translation features, you can use the full Google Translate website. This site provide additional tools and options including translation of typed or pasted text, spoken words, uploaded files, and entire websites (by URL).

  • Go to the website at
  • As usual you can choose the languages you want to translate to and from.
  • In the box you can type in or paste your original text.
  • Or you can click the microphone icon to speak the text.
  • As your translated results come up you can can click on portions of the text to see alternate translations.
  • Alternately you can paste in the web address for a site you would like to have translated in full.
  • Or you can even upload and entire file by clicking "translate a document".

Google translate extension

Another great tool for "just in time" translations is the Google Translate Chrome extension. This tool will provide a pop-up translation of any selected text on a website, as well as the option to have the text read aloud.

  • First install the Google Translate extension from the Chrome web store at: Chrome web store link
  • Once the extension is installed, right-click on the extension and choose "Options" to set your language. This will tell the extension what language to translate into.
  • While on the options screen, enable the feature for "Display icon that I can click to show pop-up."
  • Now select any text on a webpage and then click the pop-up translate icon to get a translation.
  • Additionally you can click the speaker icon to have the text read aloud.
  • You can also click on the extension to translate an entire page.

Google translate mobile app

For translation tools on-the-go you can use Google's mobile Translate app. This tool gives you lots of other options for entering text including speaking, handwriting, and even using your camera.

  • First, download the Google Translate app for Android or iOS.
  • Next choose the language you speak and the language you wish to translate to and from.
  • You can now use the microphone icon to speak in your language and the app will then speak the translation.
  • Or use the double microphone icon for a live conversation between two different languages.
  • Or you can use the doodle icon to hand write in your language and the app will translate and speak in the other language.
  • Or you can use the camera icon to point your device at any printed text (such as a sign) in one language and it will translate it live into your other chosen language.

Google Dictionary extension

When reading online, students may come across words they are unfamiliar with. With the Google Dictionary extension they can simply double-click on any word to get a pop-up definition and often a pronunciation as well.

  • First install the Google Dictionary Chrome extension here: Chrome web store link
  • After installation, right-click on the extension and choose "Options" to set your language. This will allow you to have the definitions displayed in your primary language.
  • Now just double-click on any word on a webpage.
  • A pop-up will appear with the definition.
  • If there is also a speaker icon, you can click that to hear the word pronounced.

Docs Voice Typing

As an alternative to typing, students can use the Docs Voice Typing tool to speak to Google Docs and have their words typed for them. This can be helpful when the student is not sure of the spelling of the words, as well as serving as an excellent way to practice spoken fluency.

  • While in Google Docs, click "Tools" in the top menu bar, then "Voice typing".
  • This will open a pop-up microphone window.
  • Click the microphone icon and then speak to have your words typed for you.
  • Click the microphone icon again to stop speaking.
  • If desired, you can click the drop-down language menu to pick a different language.

Read&Write for Google Chrome

As mentioned in earlier blog posts, Read&Write is one of my favorite Chrome extensions. It provides a wide range of tools, many of which can be very useful for someone learning a new language including text-to-speech, dictionary, picture dictionary, translation, and more.

  • First install the Read&Write extension from the Chrome Web Store here: Chrome web store link
  • With the extension installed, you can click on it when inside or a Google Document or on any website.
  • This will open a toolbar with a variety of buttons. Some of the useful tools include the following:
  • Play - This is the text-to-speech button. This will read aloud the text you have selected or the entire page or document. This can be a great way to improve comprehension of a second language by hearing the text read aloud for you.
  • Dictionary - This tool will give you a definition of a selected word in a pop-up window.
  • Picture Dictionary - This tool will give you a clipart images for a selected word in a pop-up window.
  • Translator - This tool will give a translation of a selected word in a pop-up window in the language of your choice.
  • Options - In this menu you can choose the voice and speed used for text-to-speech. This can make it much easier for a student to understand the words being spoken. In the options menu you can also choose the language to be used for translations.

Note: You can have multiple tools in use at once for additional help as needed.

Note: There is a free version and a paid version for the Read&Write extension. The free version includes the text-to-speech and translator tools. As an educator you can have the full version at no cost by filling out the Educator Upgrade Form.

Summarization tools

Another great way for students to understand text is to get a simplified summary of the content. There are many tools that can create an abridged version of longer text. Using any of these tools can help a student get the gist of an article before working on reading the entire original text.

Here are a few good summarization tools:

For more details on any of these, see my earlier blog post on summarization tools.

Screen recording tools

When students are working in a second language, it can be beneficial to give them other ways to express themselves than just writing. Tools that record audio or video of the student can be a great way to let them share their understanding, while also practicing spoken fluency. There are many excellent tools that can be used for this purpose. One that I frequently recommend is the Screencastify extension for Chrome.

  • First, install the Screencastify extension from the Chrome Web Store here: Chrome Web Store link
  • When you first install the extension, it will ask you a few setup questions. You will want to give it permission to save videos to Google Drive, as well as permission to use your camera and microphone.
  • When you are ready to use the tool, click the extension.
  • Choose if you want to record the "Tab", "Desktop", or "Cam".
  • Click "Record" to start.
  • Click the extension and "Stop" then done.
  • Your video is now saved to your Drive and can be shared as normal.

For more help on how to use Screencastify, see some of my earlier resources here:

  • Blog Post - “7 Super Screencasting Activities for School” - Blog post link
  • Training video - “Super Screencastify Activities for Schools” - YouTube link
  • Slideshow - “Screencastify Activities for Schools” - Google Slides link

Post by Eric Curts. Bring me to your school, organization, or conference with over 50 PD sessions to choose from. Connect with me on Twitter at and on Google+ at

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