Your Questions About Google Translate

December 11, 2012
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Betty asks…

Who else is bothered by people suggesting Google Translate on the Languages section?

Google Translate doesn’t work and they’re just making it harder for people asking the questions.

admin answers:

It is a nuisance. Why bother to post something that people are already aware of and that is unreliable?

Sandy asks…

Why is it that google translate is so terrible?

I’ve been teaching myself German and learned through trial and error that most online translators are not to be trusted; but I’ve run into the most trouble with google translate.
It doesn’t seem to register the right wording order with most languages, and when I go to check myself I’ve got nothing to do but wait for my Austrian friend to come online to correct me.
Why is it that google translate doesn’t know how to order words properly in separate languages?
And are there any online translators that do?

admin answers:

When people use a calculator to work out the answer to a mathematics problem, they will get one, correct answer if they have keyed in all the digits and operators correctly. They then go to an online translator and expect to be able to do the same with a piece of text. Mathematics has its own logic and rules that can be recreated with a calculator. Language doesn’t. Languages are constantly changing anyway through usage and sentence grammar and syntax vary widely from language to language. The online translator is only as good as the algorithms it deploys when rendering meaning from one language to another. And this is one area in which a machine still can’t compete with an appropriately trained human translator.

The best human translators are often those brought up bilingually, by say, a German-speaking father and an English-speaking mother. To be a good translator, you have to know two languages to a native level. In many Yahoo questions, non-bilingual German speakers sometimes post answers translating German text into English, putting “native” (native what?) as their source. Their knowledge of German may be impeccable, but their English will sometimes sound stilted and unidiomatic even if, technically, the grammar is accurate. If you’re not bilingual, then it’s best to stick to translating into your mother tongue because you know that language best. The United Nations Organisation tends to employ only completely bilingual linguists, which of course is an accident of birth.

Getting back to online translators, they do have their uses. Use them to translate text from a foreign language into English and read through what they produce with a critical eye. If you enter a whole text and end up with gibberish, enter a sentence or two of the text instead and see what happens. If you’re still unsatisfied, then enter the text one word at a time. You’ll get the gist of the meaning that way, but to get a wholly reliable translation, you’ll need to approach a professional translator. If you must translate from your mother tongue into a foreign language, you must always re-enter the foreign language text into the online translator and get it to translate back into your mother tongue. Then judge whether the translator has done a good job.

Finally, the best help to the linguist isn’t Google Translate but Google itself. If you want to check the grammatical accuracy of a piece of foreign language text, do an online search and see if the phrase comes up on a website in the country where the foreign language is spoken. If you do find it there, check what kind of website it is, whether a teenage, slang-oriented site or an academic site where people use formal language.

Susan asks…

How can I put hard copies of pages from a book into Google Translate or Babelfish?

These came via U S mail. I can’t find a way to cut, copy and paste any of it into Google translate or any other translation service, so I can read it in English. How else can I do this?
I will allow for differences in sentence structure and the meaning of some words. I just want the gist of what the pages are saying.

admin answers:

Aside from typing them up yourself, there is no way.
But you’ll get more than just sentence structure and word differences. You’re going to get complete and utter rubbish vomited forth.

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