Google Translate is a free web-based translation tool that helps users translate documents and texts between hundreds of languages. The service was launched in 2006. Despite undergoing constant improvements since then, it still struggles identifying and translating the purpose behind a text.
Are you travelling abroad and don’t understand what a sign stands for? Would you like to know how an unknown word is rendered into your native language? Use Google Translate. However, you might want to consider a professional human translator for anything work-related!
From a professional standpoint, you should avoid all types of free online translation services. Here are seven reasons why:
1. Google Translate is crowdsourced
There are no professional translators or linguist experts updating Google Translate to ensure everything is correct. Like Wikipedia, anyone can suggest a translation for a specific term, phrase or idiom – Google Translate is crowdsourced. It is the virtual equivalent of having an inexperienced relative or friend translating your important documents.
2. Google Translate learns automatically
Google Translate also learns a lot on its own. It searches for patterns among hundreds of millions of texts and documents to “learn” different languages and language combinations. In 2016, this resulted in a bug (according to Google themselves) where certain Ukrainian words and phrases were incorrectly translated into Russian. “Russian Federation” was translated as “Mordor” (a fantasy land in the ever so popular J.R.R. Tolkien’s book series “The Lord of the Rings”). The last name of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia, Sergey Lavrov, was mistranslated as “sad little horse”. Ukrainians commonly used these phrases during the annexation of Crimea in 2014.
A spokesperson from Google commented on the event:
“…automatic translation is very difficult, as the meaning of words depends on the context in which they are used. This means that not all translations are perfect, and there will sometimes be mistakes or mistranslations”.
Google has since fixed the bug. And if they hadn’t, maybe similar mistranslations would have popped up today.
3. Google Translate (and all other free translation services) have trouble with personal integrity
Most people who use Google Translate simply copy and paste their text into the translation area and click on “translate”. They forget or aren’t aware that most free online translation tools use crowdsourcing to improve their translation capabilities.
This means that you can inadvertently send sensitive documents to a public cloud server that anyone has access to. A couple of years back, for instance, a company claimed that a free translation tool had made their private documents searchable on Google. For all companies out there: avoid Google Translate if you want to ensure your sensitive documents aren’t at risk of becoming public.
4. Google Translate struggles with dialects
Another demerit of Google Translate’s machine translation is that it struggles with identifying the finer nuances of a language – dialects for example.
Arabic has multiple dialects and modern variations. However, the dialects can be so different that even Arabs themselves have trouble understanding each other. Google Translate doesn’t fully understand the concept of a “dialect” and will most likely translate many words incorrectly.
5. Google Translate’s translations are too literal
Google Translate is an “automatic translation tool” which scans a word, finds a suitable translation in its database and then translates it literally. That is why most translations end up sounding flat, stiff or formal.
Translating individual words or simpler phrases, such as “I am tired” is usually not problematic. But when it comes to rendering idioms or everyday expressions such as ‘selling like hot cakes’ or ‘going with the flow’ mistranslations may occur.
This becomes a major problem when translating legal documents to be sent to a foreign business partner, which often contain complex and highly technical utterances. Sending a flawed translation can have dire consequences and create irreparable miscommunication between a company and its clients.
6. Google Translate cannot detect emotions, tonality or other nuances of meaning
Tonality in a text is not so obvious to a machine as it is to a human. When the translated words fail to convey a specific emotion – happiness, anger, sadness – there is a risk that the translation will not achieve its intended purpose.
There are also many other nuances and narrative tools, such as sarcasm, that a machine cannot grasp, but we do. Context is extremely important for written texts – something that translation tools need to keep on practicing to gain a better understanding.
7. Google Translate can handle certain language pairs worse than others
Languages stem from different language families. The languages in a language pair can either be very similar or very different to one another in terms of structure, grammar and vocabulary, among others.
Some language pairs are easier to work with and translate documents to and from. Translating from Norwegian into Swedish or from German into English are among the easiest language pairs as they belong to the same language family. Other language pairs such as English and Arabic can pose more of a challenge (sometimes even for a human translator). The greater the differences between the languages, the more difficult it becomes for Google Translate to carry out a good translation.
Machine translation cannot replace human translation
If you don’t want poorly-done translations to jeopardize your company’s reputation you should avoid Google Translate altogether.
Contact Novoterm instead. We offer professional language translation and language review in over 40 different languages. Whether you are in need of a translation, a language editing or a proofreading job – we’re here to help. Our translators are experienced linguists who, for quality reasons, only translate into their native language.
Contact us for more information about our language services.
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