We’ve all been there. The assignment is due the next day and there isn’t a single word on that page. Your first thought is “let me google translate this from English to Spanish real quick, the teacher won’t know”.

Spoiler alert: they will know.

You know your language teacher hates Google Translate as a language learning tool, don’t you think there is a reason for that?

Google Translate is one of the most widely used translation tools in the world, but it’s not the only option. It is an excellent tool if used properly. It has many languages otherwise not available in translating apps and uses AI, allowing it to get smarter with time.

It has definitely come a long way. But still, it has its limits, and unless you give it enough context, the translations might be wonky or unnatural, making it difficult for a native speaker to understand. To get accurate translations, you must be aware of this.

Some great advantages to Google Translate:

    • Possible to download languages for offline translation

    • 133 languages available for translation, the most diverse online translation tool out there.

    • Automatically translates speech image, and text

For travelling, Google Translate is fantastic. When you need to communicate but don’t know the language at all, it’s a quick way to get your message across.

But for language learning, there are other ways that will get you to improve faster.

Here are some Google Translate alternatives to help you in your language learning journey.

1. Teacher favourite: For individual words: WordReference

My all-time favourite, Word Reference.

Word Reference is a free online dictionary with several languages including (but not exclusive to) French, Korean, Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, German, Arabic and even Catalan. It is a top online dictionary especially effective for French, English, and Spanish.

Let’s say you want to translate from French to English. You’re looking for the meaning of the verb “montrer”.

Not only does it give you the various meanings with example sentences, but also the relevant prepositions, synonyms, as well as any idioms and expressions using montrer.

The 50 most important verbs in French. 

Why is it a favourite? Pros


  • Shows the many uses and subtleties of the word, which Google Translate does not
  • Gives expressions and idioms
  • Has various language pairings if your base language is not English
  • Allows you to look up single words and form your own sentences, the most effective way to improve.


  • Does not work with text or images
  • Many languages are not available

2. For Expressions: linguee

Let’s say you want to figure out how to say the verb to have in Portuguese.

Start by typing “linguee english portuguese” on Google. You will be taken to Linguee’s homepage. Once you type the word you’re looking for, here to have, it will give you all these results.



  • Browses the internet for the word showing ways it is used in the real world by natives (teaching you how to think in the language and not mentally translate word by word from your base language)
  • Includes many languages including some rare languages
  • Has idioms and expressions
  • Translates text and files, you can upload files and let Linguee it translate for you.


  • Has way less languages than Google Translate
  • No other cons, it is really complete and does its job perfectly, especially for a free tool.

3. For texts: (don’t do it 😉) DeepL Translate

Ideally, you wouldn’t use text translation for language learning purposes. However, if necessary, the best alternative to Google Translate would be DeepL.

Just like its competitor, it has its limits in terms of context, so I always recommend giving it as much context as possible.

While a word-based dictionary such as Word Reference or Linguee will text you the many meanings of a word, text-based translators fail to do so.

Let’s take the word late as an example. In English, it has different meanings depending on its use in the sentence (adverb or adjective), but in Portuguese, they are actually different words.

Tarde is an adverb meaning that something occurs late, the opposite of early.

Atrasado is an adjective meaning that someone will get to their destination later than expected, the opposite of on time.

Can you notice how in English you would translate both of these words to late?

Unless you give the translator enough context to know which one you mean, a native might not understand you, especially if they don’t know English.


    • Translates text and filetypes such as .pdf, .docx, and .pptx

    • Has European Portuguese (Google Translate only has Brazilian Portuguese)

    • Most efficient for Mandarin Chinese

    • Has a built-in dictionary


    • Needs context to translate accurately (but can be used in juxtaposition with its dictionary)

4. For official documents and important translations: Human Translators

Technology developped immensely and there are millions of online translation options out there covering 100 languages and more. Ultimately, web-based machine translation can only do so much, and there is a point where you will need the help of those that speak the language.

For official documents, human translators are best. Here are some websites that can help you get a translator:

    • Fiver

    • Upwork

    • TranslationServices24

    • Translayte

For fun and language learning specifically, these websites are my go-to’s:

    • Tandem

    • Hello Talk

    • HiNative

Are good websites where you can find a language partner that will translate your text.

The path I recommend for language learners would be:

  2. Write your text with the words you know
  3. Look up individual words on Word Reference and add them to your text
  4. Post your writing on one of the platforms above and get help from native speakers.

In Conclusion… Don’t Use Online Translators.

The goal of language learning is to… learn the language. Ultimately, you must accept that you will make mistakes. You will learn much more from a sentence you took 5 minutes to build than from one you copy pasted.

Do you want to learn a language and don’t know where to start? Why not start here?


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