Friday, 25 May 2012

Google Translate, thanks but...

Translating. It should be easy, a job that someone, somewhere in the echelons of silicon valley should have come up with a suitable solution for.

But it hasn’t happened... yet.

The problem with using a computer to translate work is that, computers don’t understand language, or rather computers can’t understand context.

Take this translation from Google Translate.

“Nel nostro Paese chi è garantito è garantito, ma chi ha perso il lavoro o è in cerca di occupazione, magari perché giovane, è in grande difficoltà” 

Translated into;

“In our country, who is guaranteed is guaranteed, but those who have lost their jobs or are seeking employment, perhaps because he was young, is in big trouble.”

Ok, so you get a sense of what is being said here, but does that mean it is correct? Does that mean we can take something true, noteworthy and create our own interpretation and sense from it?

I would argue, no. I would after all, Google translate is being touted as the software to kill off an industry, mind you, the iPhone was thought of killing the phone. It didn’t it made it better, and that’s what something like Google Translate can do for translators and interpreters, make us better overall, but it can never replace our function.

Take my translation of the text;

“In our country, those who have a guaranteed job are ok, but those who have lost their jobs or are searching for a new one, perhaps because they are young, are struggling”

What’s the role of the interpreter for me? Someone who can bring in context and sense, someone who can carve, create, craft a meaning out of a conversation, statement, press release. Accuracy is fundamental, but making it “sing” in the face of the mother tongue reading it... Google can most definitely not give you that.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Gino, I completely agree! More and more companies think they can simply put their financial statements into Google translate and get a perfect translation. More often than not, the amount of time spent on amending (or, rewriting completely) the translation is longer than having it translated from scratch by a translator. I seriously doubt machine translation will ever replace the human translator, but it can certainly help us to improve and at least give people in a hurry the gist of the text.