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Do You Use Google Translate? Beware Of Google Translate!

  • At a Budapest zoo:
    PLEASE DO NOT FEED THE ANIMALS. IF YOU HAVE ANY SUITABLE FOOD, GIVE IT TO THE GUARD ON DUTY.
  • Hotel brochure, Italy:
    THIS HOTEL IS RENOWNED FOR ITS PEACE AND SOLITUDE. IN FACT, CROWDS FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD FLOCK HERE TO ENJOY ITS SOLITUDE.
  • Airline ticket office, Copenhagen:
    WE TAKE YOUR BAGS AND SEND THEM IN ALL DIRECTIONS.

What makes Google Translate so popular?

Do You Use Google Translate? Beware Of Google Translate!

Do You Use Google Translate? Beware Of Google Translate!

Google translate has become a very popular machine translating tool and is good for quite a few giggles to brighten up your working day. 🙂

It’s fast. It’s a quick solution and every computer with an Internet connection using Google has it at their finger tips. It’s become almost indispensible if you’re researching and find your answers in another language. Who hasn’t? You either translate the whole page or pick out a sentence or small paragraph to understand the text’s gist. Yes, you expect a few gaffers like those above, but on the whole, the tool is not at all bad and has its followers.

It also has a group of people who dislike Google Translate because it is making their lives difficult. Translators and Interpreters.

Why can’t I just use Google translate?

As a practising freelance English language teacher I know enough to be wary of any translation made by machines. However, the simplicity in using Google Translate leads many people (not just freelance teachers) to trust the translated outcome blindly – not just Google Translate but all other machine-translating or grammar and proof checking tools used on the computer as well. If a niggling thought crosses your mind, then it’s mostly discarded as being ‘it’s close enough’ and left at that. In other words, it’s too easy to not think about the consequences of a possible miscommunication, or you simply don’t have enough time to care.

The translation does sound all right, doesn’t it?

People should care about the consequences of miscommunication.

Here are a few comments in translator community groups I’ve read:

  • One translator commented that she found sections of Google-translated text that were mostly error-free and thought this proved the tool to be quite good. However, when she analysed the source and target texts, she found them ‘sounding’ all right but the actual meaning had become completely distorted. (Spanish/English)
  • Another translator found the Google-translated text had the complete opposite meaning of what the original text said. (German/Spanish/Bulgarian/English)

And of course, the funny side to a bad translation.

  • A translator mentioned he found several film subtitles with bad translations. For example: ‘you can find a horse whose name is A CUP OF BUTTER (the original is Buttercup), you can also “learn” that a SHOE (original SHOO) can chase away an unwanted animal’. He found these ‘funny and mostly harmless examples’.

What did he mean by mostly harmless examples?

When bad translations are dangerous

We can be happy when a bad translation remains harmless. What about the consequences of miscommunication when the result isn’t harmless but downright dangerous?

It’s dangerous enough that the European Food Industry Regulation has intervened because the black sheep in modern industry (in an effort to keep human translated text costs down) rely more and more to partly translate text with machine translation tools.

You will notice a change on the back and front of packages of almost all food products on a shelf in Europe by the end of this year (2014). It’s a result of a new Food Industry Regulation that is going to be issued Europe-wide with new guidelines on how allergens should be displayed on food packaging.

Dangerous because bad translations are dangerous if you suffer allergies, for example. An allergic person should be particularly wary of machine translations. For example, many people are allergic to nuts. I live in France and translated a typical phrase found on a food package: May contain nuts. This was the result:

May contain nuts

Google Translate: May contain nuts changes into the French ‘noix

Noix in French means walnuts – not the term for hazelnuts or peanuts. Imagine a French mother checking Google Translate for her allergic-to-nuts child…

What more can be said? Doesn’t it make you think people should think about the consequences of miscommunication?

The Terms of Service of Google Translate

There is yet another reason to be wary about Google Translate!

Many people blindly accept the Terms & Conditions of using free tools. The cost is the primary factor in using these free tools. However, who ever considers the possible indirect costs in using them?

Everything – but absolutely everything – you translate using Google Translate you’ve given Google the right to use as they see fit. Would you be happy having your confidential financial and legal documents floating around on the Internet? Would you be happy letting other people access them and use them without your knowledge?

The Terms of Service of Google Translate state:

‘When you upload or otherwise submit content to our Services, you give Google (…) a worldwide licence to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes that we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content.’

The text then specifies some limits on that use, but nevertheless, your text is out there and you’ve essentially handed it over to Google.

Would your students and business customers be happy when you use Google Translate to help with a translation or their presentations or a legal document? Which legal practitioner would be happy knowing you’ve used Google Translate?

I mention this to show the hazards of using machine translating tools and in particular the most popular of all – Google Translate.

Don’t use Google Translate for sensitive work!

Summary:

Google Translate good qualities:

1.   It’s fast
2.   It’s a quick solution
3.   The tool is not all bad
4.   Sometimes, it’s funny

  • On an Athi River highway:
    TAKE NOTICE: WHEN THIS SIGN IS UNDER WATER, THIS ROAD IS IMPASSABLE.
  • In a cemetery
    PERSONS ARE PROHIBITED FROM PICKING FLOWERS FROM ANY BUT THEIR OWN  GRAVES.
  • From the “Soviet Weekly”:
    THERE WILL BE A MOSCOW EXHIBITION OF ARTS BY 15,000 SOVIET REPUBLIC PAINTERS AND SCULPTORS. THESE WERE EXECUTED OVER THE PAST TWO YEARS.

Google Translate bad and even dangerous qualities:

  • Think… people with allergies.
    Most people – not just freelance teachers – do not think about the consequences of miscommunication, or they simply do not have enough time to care.
    You should take the time to care.
  • Remember the Terms & Conditions of using Google Translate! Be aware whatever you translate could float around on the Internet. Would you be happy letting other people access them and use them without your knowledge? Use the tool but be aware of possible consequences should you give Google Translate freehand to use confidential financial and legal documents you’ve translated.

 

Further information

1.   Case study:

The BDÜ (the German Federal Association of Interpreters and Translators) also did an interesting experiment with Google Translate, which you can watch on YouTube:

2.   Information on the new Food Industry Regulations:

If you would like to read more about the new Food Industry Regulations, go to Richard Brooks to read his article: Translating the Food Information Regulation Direction

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Can You Do Me A Favour?

I’d love to hear about how you use Google Translate, the funny translations, the bad translations or even when you realise your text has been translated completely into the opposite meaning to your original text. Leave a comment in the Add Your Comment box below.

Be specific. Has a company questioned you about your use of Google Translate? The collective insight of the Entrepreneurial Freelance Teachers community will help us all realize what dangers (or fun) we can be confronted with miscommunication.


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