A blog by Marc Jarrett committed to informing readers and facilitating global commerce.
Friday, 26 February 2016
How well does Google translate translate?
The Californian behemoth has impacted most of our lives. It certainly has mine. Over and above using it almost hourly for search, it’s my email client, my calendar, my map, and I invariably end up watching something or another on YouTube at some stage most days. And, yes, I use it for advertising too, thus doing my little bit to help its newly minted parent company Alphabet become the second most valuable company in the world, behind Apple.
And then there’s Google Translate, another wonderful tool. Occasionally, I get emails in a language with which I am not familiar. After a quick copy and paste, Google conveniently auto-detects the author’s language and serves me the translation in my Mother lounge, English. Perfect. Or is it?
Upon closer inspection, said translations are riddled with grammatical errors and mistakes. Fine for ‘getting the gist’, but wholly inadequate when reaching out to existing or prospective customers.
For example, my company’s strapline is ‘Facilitating Global Commerce’. Using Google’s tool to translate these three words into the only other language with which I am familiar, German, yields “Erleichterung Global Commerce”. It’s as if the underlying algorithm gave up after the first word.
Given the fact that the World Wide Web is a truly global medium, I am a passionate advocate of helping others capitalize on this universal reach to help them win new customers, or better serve existing ones.
But when speaking with prospective clients about the possibility of creating localized translated websites for any given market, I have lost count of the amount of times I have heard “It’s okay, we’ve got it covered”, or words to that effect, just because they, like so many others before them, have simply added a Google Translate widget onto their homepage and naively assume that this is ‘job done’ when it comes to reaching out to that global audience.
I find this incredibly frustrating. Not only does it demonstrate a certain degree of inertia, but adding said widget will do more harm than good since the original message that the company is trying to convey will indeed be lost in translation.
Personally, I draw a certain degree of comfort knowing that despite technology evolving exponentially, there are still some areas to which us human beings are better suited - with translating very firmly being one of them. Doubtless in ten years’ time, automation tools like Google Translate will learn from their mistakes and do a stellar job. In the meantime, however, translation work should only be outsourced to a native speaker familiar with the cultural nuances associated with any given language.
In many ways, the translation marks the beginning of a process. A foreign language website in and of itself will do nothing to galvanise sales and inbound inquiries. However, using country specific domains, local hosting, SEO, link building and other measures, will.
In conclusion, if you are a business that has been relying on Google Translate as part of your internalization efforts, remove that widget from your homepage and set aside some time and money to proactively reach out to customers in new markets.
In so doing, you will be in a position to be able to win business from new markets relatively quickly, and start to capitalize on the global reach afforded by the web. After all, it’s prefixed with the golden term ‘world-wide’ with good reason.