Let’s Work with AI!— Machine Translation as a Tool for Discussion

Book Writer & Publisher: 
Mitsuko Yukishige, Kazumi Tsutada, Mikie Nishiyama, & Tom Gally. Sanshusha
Toshiko Oda, Tokyo Keizai University

[Mitsuko Yukishige, Kazumi Tsutada, Mikie Nishiyama, & Tom Gally. Sanshusha, 2022. p. 96. ¥1,800. ISBN: 978-4-384-33508-8 C1082.]

Let’s Work with AI! is a groundbreaking English textbook for intermediate university students. It provides a possible answer to the question of how language teachers can deal with machine translation.   

The influence of machine translation on language learning is not negligible. The quality of machine translation has improved dramatically with the use of neural machine translation, sometimes referred to as AI translation. Research shows (Oda, 2019) that most college students use free online machine translation systems, such as Google Translate and DeepL. A survey by Yamada et al. (2021) targeted at instructors of General Education English in Japanese universities (N=60) showed that many of them (N=38) neither allowed nor banned the use of machine translation, even though they were aware that their students made use of it. Now is the time for all language teachers to confront machine-translation issues.

Two major approaches that language teachers can use to deal with machine translation come to mind. One is to place a ban on machine translation. This might be possible in the classroom, but it is unrealistic for homework. Winch (2018) reports the improper use of machine translation by college students in the UK, despite strong warnings. The other approach is that teachers take the initiative to use machine translation. Let’s Work with AI! makes a case for the latter approach.

Let’s Work with AI! attempts to help students become independent language users. Some digital literacy is essential to make good use of machine translation. The textbook has two pages of instructions on how to use machine translation. The recommended process includes pre-edit, machine translation, post-edit, and back-translation. The authors acknowledge that the process does not guarantee perfect English. Nevertheless, it helps students express their thoughts much more freely than they might without machine translation.

The content of Let’s Work with AI! is as follows. The instructions on machine translation at the beginning are followed by 14 units of controversial and naturally divisive topics (e.g., the current immigration policies of the Japanese government). Each unit begins with a one-page reading assignment on a topic. This is followed by questions on reading and listening comprehension. Students then work in groups to exchange their opinions. Then every student prepares a draft for his or her speech by filling in flowcharts. The next step is unique. After they compose the draft of the speech in Japanese, the students translate it into English using machine translation. The lesson does not end here as students give presentations and participate in additional discussions.

Overall, students find machine translation quite effective and consider it as a valuable learning tool Sakamoto (2021). I received similar feedback from my students after their English presentations. Nevertheless, English expressions by machine translation were sometimes beyond their proficiency level. In these cases, I advised students not to adopt expressions that they do not understand.

As the content of the textbook shows, our language use is quite complex, and machine translation has limited uses. Machine translation can provide a word-to-word translation. However, it is left to users to make their statements consistent and to orally deliver them to the audience in an effective manner. This hopefully clears up the common misconception that with good machine translation, no one needs to learn a foreign language anymore.

Instead of using Let’s Work with AI!, teachers can use other textbooks and incorporate the instructions on how to use machine translation presented in Let’s Work with AI!. In any case, it is crucial to set English presentations or discussions as a final goal so that students have a chance to digest and demonstrate what they learned using machine translation.

Some limitations of Let’s Work with AI! are as follows. Teachers must have reasonably good literacy in machine translation to use this textbook effectively because there are numerous pitfalls in using Japanese–English machine translation. The textbook does not mention the risks of plagiarism or other ethical issues related to machine translation. Teachers must clarify what is allowed and not allowed in their courses. For instance, using statements copied from some Japanese websites and translated into English by machine translation is normally considered plagiarism. In addition, teachers must be prepared to explain to their students why machine translation is sometimes acceptable to their students.

Nevertheless, Let’s Work with AI! opens a new door for language teachers. Once teachers become reasonably familiar with machine translation, the methods introduced in the textbook would be useful in most current college-level English courses in Japan.


Oda, T. (2019). Machine translation and foreign language education in Japan. The Journal of Humanities and Natural Sciences, 145, 3-27. https://repository.tku.ac.jp/dspace/handle/11150/11398

Sakamoto, T. (2021, December 18-19). Motivation for English communication and machine translation [Eigo comyunikeeshon he no iyoku to kikai honyaku] [Paper presentation]. The 50th Meeting of the Japan Society of English Usage and Style, Japan. http://www.jaseus.org/taikai/presentation50.pdf

Winch, J. (2018, June 29). Google translate and plagiarism in university language formative assessment work [Paper presentation]. Google Translate and modern languages education, University of Nottingham. https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/conference/fac-arts/clas/google-translate-a...

Yamada, M., Langlitz, H., Oda, T., Mochida, T., Tamura H., Hiraoka, Y., & Irie, T. (2021). A preliminary survey on the use of machine translation in English education at Japanese universities. Invitation to interpreting and translation studies, 23, 139-156. http://honyakukenkyu.sakura.ne.jp/shotai_vol23/No_23_007-Yamada_et-al.pdf