Machine translation… it’s a life-saver, right?

We’ve all found ourselves in situations where we’ve been truly grateful for the power of Google Translate to help us understand an unknown word instantly.

Instant translation is tempting when you’re in the process of learning a language too. It saves you the time and effort of thinking, and with machine translation having improved noticeably in the past few years, you know that it will most likely be correct.

Yet it’s a divisive topic. While many language learners swear by their translation tools, it is the scourge of many a language teacher, who despair of their students’ badly machine-translated homework.  

Is it time to ditch instant translation for good? Not necessarily. If you use translations wisely, you can learn from them very effectively. You can gain a lot of new vocabulary, and translations may also show you other variations of meaning for a certain word, which widens your vocab even further and allows you access to way more contexts to speak about! It is also invaluable for checking your writing to ensure that it makes sense (whenever your Tandem partner isn’t available to help you, of course!)

Because of these useful elements, we’ve incorporated instant translations into Tandem’s chat tab. It’s super handy for those times when you just need to send a quick message to your Tandem partner but you’re not sure about one or two words. You simply type the words you’d like to translate in your own language, select them and press translate.

However, we made a conscious decision to limit free translations to five messages per day in all of your conversations. We’ve found that limiting translations to just five means we stop and think: “Do I really need to translate this?” rather than mindlessly translating everything.

For those who are really keen on having the option to translate whenever and wherever, we offer unlimited in-app translations as part of Tandem Pro membership. Find out more about Tandem Pro in our FAQs.

If you are limited to five translations, there are plenty of techniques that you can use to get the most out of them! We’ve compiled a list of smart ways to make the most of the limited translations and still have a really good language exchange.

Here are our five top tips for making the most of limited translations on Tandem:

1. Avoid the temptation to translate (when possible)!

One way to be sparing with translations is, of course, to avoid translating altogether. Drawing pictures, using opposites of the word and giving funny examples are all ways that you can get the message across without using the translate option on Tandem. It may take a little longer to reach the word that you mean, but you’ll definitely cover some other useful vocab on the way there!

2. Work it out together

A really useful way to use translations is as a checking device to make sure that you and your partner were right. If you’re talking in your partner’s native language and you stumble across a word that you don’t know how to say, you could switch briefly into your native language to ask what the word is in their language. Then, you can try to work it out together using hints and tips in each language. You can finally use the translate feature to check whether you were right! It’s this sort of team work that makes language exchanges so satisfying (and fun)!

3. Always note down new translations

Each time you use the translate function on Tandem, add the translation of the word to a little list. This way, the next time you need it, you can just check the list instead of using up another precious translation! You could even offer to test your Tandem partner on their list of translated words, and vice versa, making it into a fun little game!

4. Only translate words when necessary

If you’ve tried all the above methods first, then it’s ok to translate on Tandem. Translating is a super handy way of quickly accessing new vocab. But make sure you learn the translations as you go!

5. Try Tandem Pro!

After all that, you may still find that five translations per day doesn’t cover all the words you need to translate. Why not try out an upgrade? With Tandem Pro, you get to play games, see members who are nearby to where you are, see who’s viewed your profile, have ad-free access, and best of all, you can use unlimited translations to help you learn in the best way.

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