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PC World: Google Docs Translations Don’t Make Sense May 18, 2011

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Random musings, Translation.

A reporter at PC World is doing a series on Google Docs, and today he took a close look at their claim that they can “easily translate documents into 53 different languages.” He asked his bilingual Twitter followers for help, sending them an English document and its Google Docs translation and asking them what they thought. The results were hit or miss. English and French was passable, but English and Hebrew was “one big disaster.” He also tested Arabic, Spanish and probably several other languages. He summed up the results by saying, “Suffice it to say, I wouldn’t blindly trust any translation done by Google Docs. Obviously, the translations feature in Google Docs needs some work, and Google could start by making it at least as good as the translations done on the translate.google.com site.” Feel free to add your comments to the article 😉



1. Craig Morris - May 19, 2011

The question is not when “automated translation” (with Google Translate, we are no longer talking about old-fashioned machine translation, but TM-based translation, with machine translation kicking in when there are no matches) will become as good as a human translator (where quality also differs…), but when that quality will be good enough to do without a human translator.

From the viewpoint of a translator, the question is not only when we will run out of work because customers start to switch to Google Translate (or whatever) and correct the egregious mistakes themselves, but also when it becomes faster for us to get a rough translation from Google Translate ourselves and merely proofread the results with no noticeable loss in quality.

We are not there yet, but who is to say what the world will look like in 20 years – especially if more and more translations of sufficient quality are entered in Google Translate.

Ellen - May 19, 2011

I absolutely agree. As a test, I ran a (relatively simple) IFU for a medical device through Google Translate (English>Dutch) yesterday, and I was impressed. At least half of the sentences were fit for publication. Out of the other half, most was comprehensible and only needed minor corrections. The worst mistake was probably that the manufacturer’s name had been translated.

We can be unhappy because machines are taking over our work, or happy that machines are taking over the boring, repetitive work, leaving us with the more challenging and interesting jobs. For the time being, that is, until they have grasped that as well.

2. Thomas Ruehl - May 20, 2011

I wouldn’t quite agree with Craig Morris’s statement that GT doesn’t produce translations we (as professional translators) could use to speed up our work. In fields such as general economics (or business gibberish 😉 ), I’ve had some quite astonishing results with GT. In a few instances, there have been sentences that only required some grammatical polishing but which otherwise have been totally fine. Of course, the more complex your sentence and the more specific the field you’re translating in, quality declines.

3. EP - May 24, 2011

I don’t think you can blindly trust any automated translation. But to be fair, unless you know and can rely on your human translator, I don’t think you can blindly trust a human translation either.

It is absolutely astounding how far translation software has come along, however. This was like so unthinkable just a few years back.

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