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Dealing with Plagiarism and Web Translation

One topic that will get any language teacher discussion going is how to deal with plagiarism and web translation. In the pre-Covid classroom, being able to confront students face-to-face what is a fact we often took for granted. With distance classes, it becomes easier for students to rationalize both plagiarism and web translation and it becomes more frustrating for teachers to deal with it. Some teachers are totally against it, to the point that they are willing to suggest that all writing be in class, which can be rather challenging with the loss of F2F teaching, while other teachers want to try and have students use sources (a process referred to in the literature as ‘patchwriting’) and web translation as tools. Regardless of how you approach these, you do need to understand what the possibilities are.

Three sites

If you haven’t tried it, three sites to check out are,, and Each has its strengths and weaknesses. Google Translate is probably the weakest, possibly because of the range of languages it covers, while DeepL, the creation of a German company, translates a smaller set of languages and is impressively accurate, while Papago, developed by the Korean company Naver, often gives much more conversational translations, in part because it draws on the similarities between Japanese and Korean grammar.

After you look at those translations, you may have the urge to just throw up your hands and give up, because it seems almost impossible to tell. If students are going to use this type of tool consistently, it would be easy to see how you would need to spend more time trying to figure out what was web translated/plagiarized than actually teaching students. Fortunately, there are some steps you can take so that this doesn’t overwhelm you.

Why are they doing it?

The first point is that students are generally not using plagiarism and web translation to game the system, they are using it to deal with a limited amount of time and pressing deadlines. If a student is dead set on using plagiarism and web translation, there is probably not a lot you can do about it, but most students only turn to this when because they have poor time management skills. By understanding that, we realize that plagiarism and web translation will be concentrated around deadlines. So you can more easily identify offending students by scaffolding writing assignments, providing required vocabulary, personalizing topics and requiring some initial ideas. While this requires more work and organization in the long run, it can be ultimately more satisfying and will help you to identify students whose final assignments seem to materialize out of nowhere.

Catching versus preventing

Another way to think of this is that you want to make using plagiarism or web translation more work and less of a time savings than doing the actual work. Asking students for information that can easily be found in Wikipedia rather than asking them for their opinions and ideas is an invitation to plagiarism, which can be hidden by taking a Japanese webpage and running it thru one of the web translation services. Instead, having students discuss a music video and requiring clear time markers (“At 1:03, the singer’s clothes change from white to black…”) makes copy and paste plagiarism virtually impossible, and make web translation a much more involved task. Think how you could redesign your essays in a way that throws some sand into the gears.

A further step is sharing student essays and requiring that students use opinions of other classmates while referencing them is another useful technique, especially when asking students to expand their essays.

The loss of F2F contact certainly makes the process of catching plagiarist and web translation users more difficult, but we can offset this by structuring out assignments and considering how the students are managing their time. Post class interviews and discussions suggest to me that no student goes in with the aim of avoiding work, they turn to these shortcuts precisely because that is what they see them as, short cuts. This can make the challenge of identifying students using plagiarism and web translation manageable.

Photo Credit:, CC0 Public Domain, Free for commercial use. No attribution required.


Joseph Tomei has taught EFL in France, Spain, and Japan at the primary, secondary, and tertiary levels. In addition to his interest in computer-mediated communication, he also is interested in the application of functional/typological grammar to language teaching, practical activities in the language classroom, and writing instruction, and his doctorate is on the use of metaphor by EFL writers.


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