Translation Service Essentials—Why Not Just Use Google Translate

Online Translation

Google Translate supports over 90 languages and can even translate half of those just by submitting a photo of the text. It is free, real-time, and offers a simple web interface. With all of the amazing features of this free service, why do you need a translation service? Why not just use Google Translate?

If you think the question is a silly one, you do not work in the translation field. Most translators and translation services are bombarded by questions about Google Translate.

Do you use Google Translate, aren’t you the same as Google Translate, why should I pay you to do what Google Translate does for free? Let’s examine a few of the reasons why Google Translate is not a viable option for the majority of your translation needs.

How Does Google Translate Work?

Google Translate is a statistical analysis engine (as compared to a rule-based system) that uses language patterns to formulate a translation. This means that words are not translated one-to-one, but rather content-to-content. While this often generates a more realistic sounding translation, the lack of context clues and linguistic rules often lead to significant errors.

Google Translate also relies on many pivot languages. This means that instead of translating directly from a source language to a target language they will translate to an intermediary language (often English) and then to the target.

For example, if you wanted to translate a sentence from French to Russian, Google translate would not make a direct language pair translation. Instead, it would translate French to English and then English to Russian. As you might imagine, this leads to many contextual errors, especially with words that do not translate well from the source language to English.

Translating Neoterm and Untranslatable with Google

When Google Translate comes across a new word, or one that does not have a direct translation from one language to another, it often just repeats the word verbatim. Sometimes this is what you want. Other times, you were hoping for a transcreation, but this is beyond Google Translate’s ability.

The system does allow users to add terms to the translation dictionary. This means users all over the world are able to help Google decide how new terms or generally untranslatable words ought to be translated into any number of target languages.

The result is often chaotic and inaccurate since there are no translation authorities overseeing the development of the database.

Google Translate’s Greatest Challenges

The greatest challenge of Google Translate, at present, is the inability to understand context and tense. Remember, English is often used as a pivot language, yet English does not contain many of the rules of formality or verb tenses found in other languages.

For example, the subjunctive mood is often used in Spanish to express a statement made without certainty. This does not exist in English. A great number of languages have a formal and an informal form of address (think tu versus vous or tu versus Usted). English does not.

Google translate cannot tell from the context of the sentence if the sentence ought to be formal or informal. This can get even more tricky when dealing with languages such as Portuguese where there are regional variation as well (Brazilian versus European).

Google Translate Limitations—Why Does it Matter

In the end, the only real question is “So What?” What does it matter how Google arrives at its translations or if there are a few challenges along the way? If the end result is readable and comprehensible, isn’t that enough?

Truly, that is a question only you can decide. What sort of accuracy do you require? If the information only requires the readers to get the gist of your information, perhaps Google translate is all you need.

However, if you are translating official documents, patent applications, business letters, anything that could end up in court, you simply cannot afford mistakes.

On those same lines, if you are presenting information in a culture that is more formal than yours, you want to ensure the proper honorifics or speech levels are incorporated (Korean uses seven speech levels and each has its own unique verb endings. Each level shows a different level of respect towards the target audience. To use the wrong level would not only be amateurish, but may also prove to be disrespectful).

In the end, Google translate is an amazing program. It is great for personal translations of web pages, checking out some foreign words you came across in a book, and so forth. It should not, however, ever be used with professional papers or documents that will end up representing you or your company.

Despite huge advances and progress in machine translation, there are still too many variables and inconsistencies in Google’s translations for it to be considered a reliable or viable translation tool within the professional business or academic environment.

This post is written by Robert Stitt, a content writer with Ulatus.

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