Google Translate Doesn’t Work?

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I hear all the time that Google Translate doesn’t work. It’s not accurate. It’s this and that. I think Google Translate is a tremendous resource and not only for language learners. If I get a text in a language that I don’t understand, then I can quickly put it into Google Translate and get a sense of what the meaning is, something in Finnish, Hungarian, whatever it might be. It’s not 100% and it’s better for some languages than others, but I find it extremely useful.

English not your first language? Read this post on LingQ instead.

Second of all, Google Translate is an excellent dictionary. It normally gives you a lot of information about the word, some synonyms, the pronunciation, text to speech, so it’s a very good dictionary and quite accurate. This depends on the language. It doesn’t work as well in Korean as in let’s say German or Russian, but by and large it’s a very good dictionary. Not only does it do words, it does phrases and that’s very useful.

Often, if I’m working at LingQ and I look up some individual words and I don’t have a good sense of the meaning of these words in combination, I can highlight the phrase, put it into Google Translate (we’re connected to it) and I can see the meaning. Not only that, but you can also work the other way with phrases. ‘In other words’, there’s a phrase, how do we say that in Czech. There it is jinými slovy. So if you want to improve your language level by having some handy phrases like ‘in other words’, ‘in my opinion’ or ‘by the way’, then you just put it into Google Translate and you get that phrase. So that’s its function as a dictionary.

It also helps me when I have to write in a language which uses an alphabet other than the Latin alphabet. For me, to write in Russian I can do it, but it’s much faster for me to simply type quickly in English and translate it into Russian. I can go into the Russian and fix up those parts that are not correct and voila, my Russian text, if I have to comment on a forum or something of that nature. It also ensures that my spelling is correct. Now, it works better for some languages than others. It doesn’t work so well for Asian languages, but it works very well for European languages, in my experience.

The last thing I will say is that I find it very useful sometimes if I want to focus on a particular area of vocabulary, let’s say having to do with forestry or something. I can plunk in a text in English on one side at Google Translate, translate it into Russian, Chinese or whatever language, then I can import that into LingQ and I study saving words and phrases. Overall, the text that Google Translate produces is somewhat unnatural and has errors, but in terms of acquiring the vocabulary I find it tremendously useful.

To me, Google Translate is not going to replace translators that are required for legal work or business documents, but it does facilitate people working across different languages and makes it easier for us to learn languages and I don’t see that it will replace the need for learning languages. If I’m in a foreign country like China or Brazil and I want to communicate with the locals, I’m not going to do it through some device that translates it back and forth. I want to speak the local language, learn about the culture, learn about the history and so forth.

So Google Translate is a tremendous boon. It’s one of the many sort of technological advances that have made language learning so much easier today than it ever was.

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5 comments on “Google Translate Doesn’t Work?

Rosemary McGowan

I want to add that with the Google translate app you can make use of the handwriting tool which for some people and some languages allows you to draw the letters and Google translate can do word recognition. As well the camera tool has recognition capability. For example click on the camera icon and have it translate a sign in the airport or the restaurant menu. Can’t understand someone, have them speak into the app. Use it to listen to podcasts where you can pause. These are just some tools available.

Leo

I found your article to be right on target. For one thing, I think average users have higher expectations, than they should, of Google Translate simply due to lack of knowledge. When someone understands the complexity of creating something as linguistically intricate as Google Translate, he understands that it would be impossible for translation software to do this job the way a person would. Now, another reason users expect too much from GT, and this reason also derives from lack of knowledge, is that users normally do not think thoroughly about how they are communicating with GT. There are specific observations that need to be taken into account. For example, I have used GT to translate from English to Russian and vice versa. The translation software will have some level of difficulty translating accurately compound or hyphened words, such as “figure out”. Instead of asking GT to translate “We need to figure something out. The issue’s bound to have a solution”, I would rephrase it and ask it to translate “We need to find a solution. There must be one” in the case of the Russian language. I would also avoid words such as “picture” and use “photograph” instead. This is also what I do in real life when I am speaking with someone whose English I suspect might have some limitations. I find that it is a bit arrogant to expect the other person to do all the work in figuring out an interpretation. It is ok to meet them half way and try to make the sentences as simple as possible. And it’s smart to use words that we might find to be similar in several other languages, such as photograph, because words such as “picture” may have different meanings in French, Italian, Spanish, so the likelihood that it will also have a different meaning in Russian than in English is very high. However, if we try to translate the word photograph, we will find that the translation of such words into other languages will be a word from similar Latin or Greek roots. Obviously if you are bilingual, you know exactly what I’m referring to. It helps if you are bilingual or have traveled a bit and dealt with language issues before, to understand what a speaker from another language might need us to use in order to help him interpret our message or question. Now, having said all that, I have to say that I have tried Bing translator, and I was very impressed. I used compound words and fixed phrases that GT would normally miss. Guess what? Bing translator got it right 9 times out of 10. I thought that was pretty amazing.

In my opinion, if you want to get a translation right through a translation software, the safest thing to do is to think of any translation tool as a relatively inexperienced translator; someone who will make mistakes unless you do your part to make things easier for him.

Luis

Actually it doesn’t work. Try to translate any word in Greek and the only thing it will do is to convert the Greek alphabet into Latin alphabet but still in Greek.

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