Why Google Translate is Like Speed Dating…

Does Google Translate have a place in the world of professional translation? We don’t think so. There is a small place for it in personal use, but Google Translate is most definitely NOT a replacement for professional language services. In a sense, Google Translate is like speed dating. In a very quick transaction, you can get an idea of what something is saying, but you definitely won’t know the whole story. Not even close.

At Metaphrasis we have had a lot of experience with organizations believing that they don’t really need professional language services. Some even know professional translation services produce a superior result but Google Translate provides an allure of convenience. The only problem is it produces disappointing results when you are looking for accuracy.

Here’s some more food for thought: If you don’t speak the language into which you’re translating, you won’t know how much of the gist has actually been caught. Will you know how accurately you are conveying your message? Probably not.

If your translation requires any level of sophistication – if it involves, say, persuading someone to buy your services or describing the nuances of a product – you’re going to need more than a machine. You’re going to require a professional human translator with industry specific expertise, and appropriate translation tools. The following are several areas where we have found Google Translate simply falls short.

  1. Google Translate Gets Confused – Google Translate struggles with words or expressions that have more than one meaning.
    • Imagine your clients or customers seeing that your company isn’t accurately portraying a word’s intended use. That goes directly back to corporate image. Further, with legal and technical texts, the user could even be placed in danger if a meaning was misinterpreted.
    • Another common area of confusion from Google Translate is the literal translation of sentences, failing to take into account the context.
  2. Social Correctness – Google Translate can’t account for connotation in local languages. “The old and wise man” is often translated from English to Spanish as “el viejo y sabio,” which in Spanish, is disrespectful.
    • Machine translation doesn’t handle formality of conversation very well either. For example, it’s not going to differentiate between the nuances of how you speak to someone with whom you’re familiar versus someone you’ve never met. English tends to be very casual in conversation. In other languages, there are more levels of formality and communication, depending on how well you know the person and whether the communication is in writing or speaking. These are all nuances that a professional translator or interpreter would be making on an organization’s behalf.
  3. Confidentiality – This is a widely unknown aspect of Google Translate, but for companies who have IP or proprietary product information, confidential client interactions, etc. Google Translate doesn’t offer a nondisclosure agreement.
    • In fact, Google’s terms of service state that Google has the right to “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.”

Using professional translation is “more expensive”. This is the most common objection to engaging a professional firm. But really, is it? The opportunity cost in the long run can be even greater with the very real possibility of lost business, lawsuits, brand reputation or even loss of IP.  Ask yourself, is it worth the real cost of not using a professional language service company?

Here are some real life examples of the hot water an organization can find itself in with a Google Translate error: