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The problem of Google translation and other machine translations

As new applications and machine translation programs are created, the debate about the difference in quality between machine and human translations is growing. While machines can be excellent for translating individual words or short, simple sentences quickly and cheaply, there is a loss of quality as translation length grows (no doubt). Machines simply cannot understand the complex grammatical structures, cultural implications, and idiomatic expressions necessary to accurately represent a language.

A mistake by the London Olympic Committee in 2012 shows us the seriousness of some of the problems of machine translations. A sign supposed to say "Welcome to London" in Arabic at the Westfield Stratford City complex was mistranslated and later removed. It turned out that the sign was written backward in Arabic with spaces between the letters that made the sign even more difficult to understand. The Council of Arab-British Understanding director blamed the problem on a software program error that automatically reversed and disconnected the letters. This type of error could have been easily avoided by using a human translator (even a basic level translator).

This is just one example of how the quality of a machine translation simply does not match. Another practical example is this: put Shakespeare’s famous Hamlet quote, "To be or not to be, that is the question", in Google Translate. Translate it into Kannada, a language spoken in India. Copy the results, paste them back into the program and translate them into Telugu. Copy it again and translate it back into English. The results will say, "The question is yes". I know, a little confusing but if it were a good translation, the meaning wouldn’t change in any language.

While machine translations are fast and easy, words usually have multiple definitions. To choose the best, it is vital to have an experienced and certified professional translator like Entrelingo's highly trained personnel plus having cultural knowledge of both the source and the target languages.

If you’re going to a foreign country and you want to learn how to say "hello," machine translations are great, but if you’re trying to translate a letter or a legal document, make sure you’re using Entrelingo not to follow in the foolish footsteps of the organisers of the London Olympics.

Do you have other examples of bad translations? Please share them in the comments!

Mafe G. | Director of Operations and Customer Service | Entrelingo

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