Misadventures with Google Translate

Many people think that running their website copy through Google translate is enough to make their website multi-language.

I’m here to tell you that’s not good enough and the resultant copy will be jarring and amateurish to the foreign language reader.

What Is Google Translate

It’s tool you can see at translate.google.com.  You cut and paste your copy into the left hand side, select the output language and voila translated content.

But is it any good?

The Technology Is Too Young

It’s taken us thousands of years to make our language as complex as possible, and it takes us as humans many years to learn the complexity of our own language, developing translation algorithms is in it infancy, Google and Co. have a long way to go before they perfect this technology.

Think about your kids, they are exposed to your native language daily, and we still need to pick them up on problems with the way they speak or write.

I think it will come, but until that day we need human translators not robots.

Computers Don’t Have The Context

A person translating some copy can read it and understand the context.  A robot translator will just see a word and try to pick a matching one from it’s database.  It cannot read and understand the meaning of your content.

Here’s an example, you are selling a feel good spa day, talking about relaxation, luxury, high end accommodation, log fires, intimacy with your partner.

When you read this you are already picking up the emotions, you are imagining the scenario of crackling log fires, the smell of the smoke.

A robot would translate this to be “there will be burning bits of wood in your room, this will give off smoke” that’s not the feeling or context you want to portray.

The Nuance Of Your Message is Lost

If you say one thing in English, simply translating the words into French can lose the nuance.   There are some English phrases with no direct translation into French and vice versa.

A great example of this is the French term L’esprit de l’escalier.  It’s that feeling that you get once you have stormed out of an argument and you think of the perfect riposte to their words about five minutes later.  You kick yourself and wish you had said that thing during the argument.

See it takes a sentence to explain that in English, but just a short phrase in French, there is no way a robot translator can pick up that nuance.

So What’s The Answer

I’m sure the Google translate people will eventually crack the translation algorithm, but I’m 100% sure we will have to have a real person proficient in the language to proof read (and correct) the copy, language is too complex for a computer for the next 10 years as far as I can see.

I use Google translate to find single words, for example menu items, otherwise I always use skilled human translators.  My preferred translator company is iCanLocalize, their team of freelance translators can plug directly into the multi language software I use.

I can select a block of copy and send it out for translation in any number of languages, and a translation is sent back ready to plug directly into the website I am building. No cutting and pasting, just translations straight into my site ready to display.

I’ve been Guilty Too

When I first setup this site, I ran a couple of pages through Google translate to act as holding pages before I passed them out to translation (I may still have some French pages like this, do as I say not do as I do I’m afraid 🙂 )

A native German reader read them and was laughing at some of my turns of phrase, if I remember I think I said I was selling people or something like that.

Wrap Up – Misadventures with Google Translate

Translation is expensive, but it is far better than a mixed message translation as supplied by Google translate.  Check out iCanLocalize and their translation services.

If you are starting 2014 with plans to build your own multi language website, then please let me give you a no obligation quote

Photo Credit: legoalbert via Compfight cc

Discover more from iBrain

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading