Recently a client asked me to edit a previously supplied translation. After a short email exchange, it became clear that Google Translate had produced the translation submitted for proofreading. No human translator had been engaged.
I am a professional translator who makes their living by charging people for translating texts for them. So I’m bound to say that Google Translate is rubbish.
I would never say that.
But I will say that Google Translate is great for general information or if you just want to know what a text says, roughly. It’s good for making appointments with clients, it’s good for understanding what an email from a client says.
It’s not suitable for any published material that represents your company to the outside world.
Machine translation versus human translator: a practical example
To prove my point I ran a little experiment.
I asked Google to translate the following two sentences:
“Human translators have a far superior knowledge of language than any software will ever have. “Google Translate” can give you the big picture but if you actually need to understand or want to insure that your clients understand your text, you need a human translator.”
Here the Google translation into German:
“Ich fragte Google die folgenden zwei Sätze zu übersetzen: Human Übersetzer verfügen über eine weit überlegene Kenntnis der Sprache als jede Software jemals haben wird. “Google übersetzen” können Sie das große Bild geben, aber wenn Sie tatsächlich benötigen, um zu verstehen oder wollen, um sicherzustellen, dass Ihre Kunden Ihr Text zu verstehen, müssen Sie ein menschlicher Übersetzer.”
I then let Google translate its own translation from German back into English (a so-called back translation). This is the result:
“I asked Google the following two sentences to translate: Human translators have a far superior knowledge of the language than any software ever have.” Google translate” can enter the big picture, but if you actually need to understand or want to make sure that your customers understand your text, you have a human translator.”
The German translation is riddled with grammatical errors, the wrong choice of word and a (more or less subtle) change in meaning. The back translation is unsuitable for publication. It looks like a classic case of Chinese whispers.
Machines have their uses. But, please, please, please, do yourself and your company a favour and ask a “proper” translator to do the job for you when the result matters!