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Posted on20 September 2012

Google Translate

The Limitations of Google Translate

The continual development of Machine Translation can be a cause for concern amongst ranks in the translation industry. After all, the mechanisation process which has already made its mark on many key industries, such as agriculture, has proved a double- edged sword – increasing efficiency and productivity, while putting workers out of jobs. It’s no surprise that many wonder whether the same ominous mechanical hand looms over those working in the translation industry. However, if Google translate is anything to go by, we can all breathe a sigh of relief for now!

I recently used this infamous online facility to check a Norwegian into English translation that I was unsure about. There were a couple of terms that I had asked for clarification on with the translator of this particular document, and while waiting for their response, I decided to run a small passage of the text through Google Translate, as an experiment.

Even the destructive power of the predominately machinated Terminator, pales in comparison to the effect Google translate had on my sentence. What should have been translated as:

‘a charming and exuberant surprise of juicy fruit notes, a plethora of soft petals and a touch of sweet indulgence’,


‘a charming and bubbly surprise af juicy frugtnoter, a væld af blood petals and a strejf af Sod forkælelse’.

Beautiful and serene becomes sinister and nonsensical. Other passages that stood out in the supposedly translated English text were:

‘I only nyde trip and joy eyelets that toil world star’
and ‘Truck comes to play a role in nogens minder’.

Not the English language I know!

Whenever new acquaintances find out I work in the translation industry, their initial response is almost always “Can’t you just use Google for translation nowadays?” I think I’ll commit the above passage to memory as proof that you can’t.

So everybody in the translation industry can relax for now, and regard Google Translate less as intimidating and powerful Terminator, threatening to replace us, and more as the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz – a brave and helpful, but essentially silly machine, which can help us along the way, but relies more upon us, (the Dorothy of this analogy if you like) than we do on him.

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