Google Translate: friend or foe?

Google Translate: friend or foe?

Nowadays we no longer need to fear anymore getting lost in an unknown city as technology is on our side, and Google Translate can become a very good travel companion especially when it comes to understanding other languages.

Since it’s launch in 2006, Google Translate has developed enormously and has become the go-to resource for many seeking to understand content in a foreign language. With 100 languages now available, Google goes far beyond simply translating text from one language to another.

Google Translate – A helpful travel companion – Online and offline

Google Translate’s range of features are becoming ever more useful and practical for travellers. Say you need to buy a train ticket when you are overseas: Google Translate can listen to the gentleman at the ticket window, generate a written translation and speak the words in your own language, almost flawlessly. Or perhaps you would like to know which ingredients you prefer in your Smørrebrød for lunch? Used as an app, Google Translate can read text from images and translate them for you. You can even get an idea of what is going on in the local newspaper by just scanning it with your smartphone. Indeed, Google Translate can be very handy and with the latest advances in Neural Machine Translation (translation of whole sentences, rather than just word by word), Google Translate is in the process of becoming an even more accurate tool for communicating and understanding a foreign language.

In addition, you can even use Google Translate offline. In fact, you can now download languages onto your device before you travel, meaning you don’t need to worry about internet access and expensive roaming charges when you travel.

How accurate is Google Translate?

For now, Google Translate is still not as efficient as a human brain as it doesn’t interpret cultural references or figures of speech as a person would do. Therefore, be careful when considering Google Translate for any material that requires creativity, such as marketing materials or to provide a translation of your corporate website.

There are many examples out there of serious and expensive translation mistakes caused by literal (possibly Google) translation.

As a matter of fact, the syntax and some terms that Google Translate suggests are not 100% reliable. Also, the accuracy of the translation results vary from one language combination to the other. You will get good results when consulting the English to Spanish combination but might want to be more careful with less common language combinations such as Japanese to Swedish. Still, Google Translate can be powerful and can help you improve your way of understanding a foreign language (referred to in the language industry as “Gisting” or understanding the basic underlying concepts of a given piece of content).

How does Google Translate treat confidential information?

You will probably have heard about the concerns regarding Google’s data privacy that pop up on the news now and again. It is something that you should take into consideration when you are tempted to Google Translate something. For instance, when you want to know the meaning of a document that has just landed in your inbox in a language you do not understand, you might want to think twice before you use Google Translate as you will authorize Google to use your content for its own purposes:

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

Uploading your confidential or sensitive content to Google Translate might result in a breach of a legal agreement as you will send it directly to a third party. If you have a top secret contract or press information that needs to be translated, we rather suggest you use your trusted language service provider that is willing to sign an NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) with you.

So is Google Translate evil?

Not at all! As long as you are aware of Google Translate’s limitations, Google Translate can also be a great companion. It is definitely useful for any personal needs, for example when wishing your Dutch colleague a happy birthday or when you want to have a quick understanding of a press release written in Swedish that mentions your company. In fact, any content that you consider as not confidential or sensitive (such as any information that is already available in the public domain) can be Google Translated.

What about other types of Machine Translation?

Of course Google Translate isn’t the only provider of machine translation. There are a whole host of other machine translation solutions out there that may be useful for you depending on your requirements. In addition, many translation service providers now also offer machine translation solutions that can be very interesting for companies looking to translate a huge amount of fairly standard content. In this case, it’s important to define the quality level of the output:

  • information that only needs to be understood (Gisting) where an accurate translation is not necessary – in this case the output of a customized machine translation engine may be sufficient
  • information that requires a higher quality level for publishing or legal purposes – in this case a customized machine translation engine can be combined with human post-editing

Google Translate’s – not always perfect – translations have been used by many people online to create funny “Google Translate versions” of song lyrics. Here’s a hilarious example, enjoy! 😉



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By | 2018-04-04T12:11:59+00:00 September 1st, 2017|Blog|

About the Author:

Barbora has been always interested in languages and how different cultures connect. She started her journey in the translation world as a project manager and during the years she was able to tackle all kind of different industries and contents. Currently, she acts as Account Manager in the Arancho Doc’s sunny Barcelona office. Barbora is Czech native and speaks Spanish, English, Catalan and some French. She loves to see her plants green and flowering and dances Flamenco in her free time.

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