Google Translate Doesn’t Work?
I often hear people complain about Google translate. “It isn’t accurate”. “It isn’t reliable” and so forth. I am a fan of Google Translate and here is why.
We live in the age of global connectivity and information technology. At the age of 72, I started learning Arabic, spending an hour or two a day listening, reading and learning this fascinating language.
Since the age of 60, over the last 15 years, at a stage in life when, supposedly, our memory and cognitive abilities decline, I have learned 10 languages.
The motivation to study these languages comes largely from our globally connected world. These different language worlds are closer to me than ever.
The fact that I was able to make meaningful progress in languages as different as Russian, Korean, Portuguese, Romanian and Greek is the result of modern information technology. In particular I owe a big debt of gratitude to Google, and in particular Google Translate, which is a big part of my language learning. Let me explain.
Google Translate, Multi-Purpose Dictionary
Computer-based translation technology, such as Google Translate, relies on comparing massive quantities of language content between pairs of languages, in order to establish patterns, or the probability that certain words or phrases in one language will correspond to some other set of words and phrases in another language.
The accuracy of machine translation is dependent on the amount of language content compared. The greater the volume of content, the more accurate it becomes. Thus Google Translate is usually better in languages to and from English, where more such content is available, or for languages with similar word order and structure (ie Spanish). Furthermore, the accuracy is constantly improving.
There are often criticisms about the accuracy of machine translation, such as Google Translate. But this criticism is either from people who expect perfection, or from people who feel machine translation threatens the job of language professionals. But I am just a humble language learner with no expectations of perfection, and used to accepting uncertainty as I go about discovering a new language. I just love Google Translate.
Learning Arabic With Google Translate
I am at a very early stage in learning Arabic, which I am learning at LingQ, mostly using our mini-stories series. These are fairly simple stories with a lot of repeated vocabulary. When I started learning, all the vocabulary was unknown to me. Slowly I am acquiring the beginnings of a vocabulary. Despite having made an effort to learn the Arabic writing system, I am still a very uncertain reader of Arabic.
So, as I read at LingQ, when I come across a new word, a word I don’t know, or have not seen before, I highlight it. I immediately see a translation from Google translate. Usually the translation works and I continue reading. Sometimes I sense that the translation offered by Google translate is not relevant. In that case I have access to other dictionaries such as Context Reverso, which open up as separate pop ups.
This takes a little longer. Here the translation is more reliable, and there quite a few examples of the word in use. If I select this new translation, this is saved in LingQ for other learners who might be looking up that word later. In that way members of the LingQ community help each other create a quick response and accurate dictionary. But where there are no translations saved previously by other LingQ members, and I don’t want to go to the trouble of looking up the dictionary, Google Translate is there, fast and mostly accurate. This considerably speeds up my reading.
Google Translate, therefore, for individual words is the fastest off the mark dictionary, but not always the most accurate or thorough. Where Google Translate really shines, however, is for phrases and sentences. I can highlight a phrase or whole sentence and Google Translate provides an instant translation, usually quite accurate.
This is extremely useful, because very often the translation of individual words doesn’t give me a real sense of the meaning of the phrase or sentence. Furthermore, when I highlight a word, a phrase or a sentence, I hear it pronounced for me in text-to-speech. This is a powerful way to learn words, phrases and sentences, and eventually get used to the language itself.
Using Google Translate to Generate Tailor-Made Learning Content
Most of my learning activity is based on listening and reading. The words and phrases that I am learning are those that I find in the texts that I read and listen to. Often, however, I find myself wondering how I would express certain concepts in Arabic. This could be basic verbs or terms, or greetings, or connector phrases, like “in my opinion” or “in other words”.
In order to acquire this terminology, all I do is write out some text in English using the terms I want to know. Then I copy this to Google Translate. The resulting Arabic text is then imported into LingQ as a lesson. I can then save the relevant words and phrases to my personal vocabulary database, and use text-to-speech to better learn these phrases.
Google Translate as a Communication Tool
Some people wonder if the availability of machine translation and text-to-speech technology will make language learning obsolete. I don’t think so. I want to communicate with people from different language groups personally face-to-face in a real environment. I don’t want to talk through a computer.
Nevertheless, I find that Google technology helps me to communicate in writing, in emails or on Internet forums. This is true even for languages that I speak quite well, but where I’m not 100 percent confident about the grammar or spelling. I will simply type or dictate something into Google Translate and then take the resulting translated version, correct any obvious errors or inconsistencies and use that. I don’t have to worry about spelling, I don’t have to worry about accents or other idiosyncrasies of the language. And the person who receives my text translated by Google thinks that I’m very fluent in the language.
I can interact in the language, read answers, respond to them just by using my computer and Google Translate. This form of written communication is helping me learn the language. Needless to say, this works best if you are at a level in the language where you can make the necessary corrections and feel confident that what you are sending makes sense. But I confess that this is a tool that I use quite often.
Google to Find Language Content
Google provides me with the ability to search for content of interest in the language I am learning (anything from Gujarati to Farsi). This can be newspaper articles, magazine articles, podcasts or even e-books and audiobooks. Much of this material I am able to import into LingQ, and there I study it taking advantage of Google Translate as I have described above.
Google the search engine enables me to access a library of language content on a wide range of subject matter, at varying levels of difficulty, that far exceeds anything to be found even in the best university library. And it is all digital and can be accessed using modern information technology for enhanced learning.
Google for Grammar Information
If I need an overview of the grammar of a new language, say Arabic, I go to Google. If I need verb conjugation tables, noun declension tables, information on the use of pronouns etc. I just go to Google. The resources are almost limitless. I can either target specific grammar questions or look for PDF versions of grammar books. I have found some truly amazing resources in this way.
So I see Google Translate, the Google search engine, text-to-speech, and other innovations in information technology as a boon to language learning, but not something that will replace the need or motivation for language learning. We just need to look for the best ways to use this technology. Then we can continue to learn languages well into our old age.
And the next time you are not happy with Google Translate’s results, or you hear someone complain that Google Translate doesn’t work, just think of the benefits that this technology brings us, or just think of a 72 year old man starting into learning Arabic who relies on this tool.