3 Tips to use Google Translate wisely

I’ve translated three TV entertainment series, 72 episodes, about 130,000 words form English to Chinese (both spoken and written). Google Translate has ben useful in my work but using it blindly can be outright dangerous. I will share with you 12 tips of how to use Google Translate wiser.

1) Sanity checks

If you don’t know the language you are translating into (e.g. Chinese), you should use it with extreme cautious. Don’t let Google Translate make you look like a fool. At a minimum, use Google Translate to perform a sanity check on itself.

What is a “sanity check“? Well, if you want to translate English to Chinese (or any language you don’t know), at least use Google Translate to translate the text right back to you.

Real sample English text from CBC News, Sept 4, 2011 report “Tropical storm Lee sparks fresh flood warnings“,

“U.S. forecasters are warning a lumbering tropical storm Lee could bring floods and tornadoes to more south and central-eastern states as it moves northward Sunday after saturating the Gulf coastline.”

Translation from Google Translate to Chinese,

“美國預報員警告的伐木熱帶風暴可能帶來的洪水和李龍捲風更南部和中東部國家,因為它向北移動星期日飽和後海灣海岸線。”

Sanity check is using Google Translate to translate the above Chinese to English. You see I added emphasis for the potentially problematic areas.

“The U.S. forecasters warned the storm could bring tropical logging floods and tornadoes Lee in more southern and eastern countries, as it moved north after the Gulf coast on Sunday saturated.”

Observation: The Chinese translation is actually quite confusing, much more confusing that the sanity check is showing.

Here is a “work around” that is not a guarantee “solution” but better than nothing. Use short sentences. Change your English words so that the sanity check won’t give you garbage.

2) Pronunciation

I love Google Translate‘s Chinese pronunciation. It just sound great. I wonder how good is Google Translate‘s pronunciations in other languages? Please add comments to this post if you speak other languages fluently and can judge Google Translate‘s pronunciations as a native speakers of those languages.

3) Google Translate is NOT your magic bullet

To me, the purpose of language is to communicate so I try my best to avoid miscommunication. I started writing this post because I’ve noticed some Chinese Google+ users using Chinese in their comments to English posts.

I think those commenters may be assuming their non-Chinese readers can simply use Google Translate to help understand the meaning of their words. Take the following Sept 1st, 2011 comment in this post for example,

“睡不着,還能hangout,也算失之東隅 吧?”

Here is the English translation using Google Translate,

“Can not sleep, can hangout, also considered is neglected, right?”

People may be able to guess what the author means. But the words “also considered is neglected” are annoying because you can’t be sure exactly what the commenter really meant. You see, what the Chinese commenter means is roughly,

“Can’t sleep but I can still hangout, not bad right?”

The commenter used the words “失之東隅” which is a Chinese proverb. I don’t think I will use Chinese proverb if I were the commenter. You see, isn’t it the point of leaving a comment so that other people, including author of the post, can understand what you try to say?

4) Closing comments

To me, I see clear and clean communication as the reason for languages. I use and love Google Translate as a tool. But it is a tool, at its current capability as of Sep 2011, it is a still a very young, immature, and not that reliable tool. It cannot be trusted blindly.

One final sanity check example to remind us why Google Translate can’t and shouldn’t be trusted blindly using the first sentence of this article.

“I’ve translated three TV series, 72 episodes, about 130,000 words form English to Chinese (both spoken and written).”

Translation from Google Translate to Chinese,

“我翻譯的三個電視系列,72集,約 13萬字英文的形式向中國(包括口頭和書面)。”

Google Translate - pix 01

Translation from Google Translate back to English,

“I translated three television series, 72 sets, about 13 million words in English in the form of the Chinese (including verbal and written).”

Google Translate - pix 02

Do you notice one glaring problem? How did 130,000 words become 13 million words? The stupid thing is that “13萬” is actually 130,00, totally correct! But turning “13萬” into “13 million” is just total rubbish!

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