Is Google Translate An Accurate Translator?

Google TranslateA friend of mine told me recently that I should write an article about Google Translate.

This person is not a blogger, but since he knows that I am, he told me that I should spread the word about the pros and cons of this Google tool, because he knows all too well about it himself.

While many of my readers might not be using Google Translate, the posts on this blog are also meant to reach anyone on the web who would like an answer to a specific question such as this one.

Is Google Translate and Accurate Translator?

Can Google Translate be trusted as a 100% reliable translating software?  Well, let’s see. But first, what makes me an expert at Google Translate in the first place?

I am very familiar with Google Translate, because I’ve been using it for quite some times for my work.

For those who don’t know it, I’ve been working as a professional freelance interpreter and translator since 1999.  I work now mostly for private clinics and recruiting centers, but in the past I’ve worked for lawyers and local courts, here in North Carolina as well.

Today I translate mostly letters, ads and resumes from English to French, and English Spanish, and I use Google translate as a tool that helps me speed my work.

That’s why I’m very familiar with Google Translate.

When is Google Translate OK to Trust?

When you need to know simple words or sentences, Google is OK to trust.

Let’s say you want to know how to say “hello, how are you” in French. You could trust Google Translate, because it’s going to give you the right answer in simple statement such as this.

However, you need to know that since in French there are both a “formal” and a “familiar” way to address people, Google translate will give you the formal way.

Hello, how are you doing” Google will translate “Bonjour, comment allez-vous?” (Formal expression). No matter how many time you’re going to process that phrase, Google Translate is not going to give you the familiar expression.

On the other hand, I guess because Spanish of South America has gone a bit haywire from its original European Source, it will translate that same sentence in familiar Spanish – not formal.  Spanish has also both a formal and familiar way to address a person, but in this case Google Translate seems to be set to use the “familiar way” as opposed to the French translation.

Why?  I’m not quite sure, but my guess is that Hispanic people tend to use familiar expressions versus formal ones a lot.  While it’s totally not acceptable to use the familiar expression with the public or a stranger in Spain, it’s very common in Latin America. However, it doesn’t always make it right either.

So, how would you know if you’re getting the familiar or formal expression from Google Translate, if you didn’t know the language?

You wouldn’t.

This is just one of the smallest reasons why you can’t trust Google Translate for a language you don’t know at all or not well enough. But there are more.

What Happens when you Translate a Whole Document?

If you’d run a full page document on Google Translate, chances are that you would have to review the whole thing sentence by sentence, because I can assure you that you WILL find errors, and sentences that make no sense at all when translated by Google software.

This is due to the fact that Google translates pretty much everything literally, and doesn’t understand idioms. On top of this there’re also few more issues that any computerized translation system will encounter.

Let’s take a look at the replies I found on Quora about Google Translate, when someone asked the question…

Can Google Translate be trusted as an accurate translator?

Answer #1

[box type=”spacer”]Sometimes. I wouldn’t try to translate something into a language I wasn’t already familiar with since idioms can be lost in translation.

They use statistical matching to translate rather than grammar rules. This can also cause some problems.[/box]

Answer #2

[box type=”spacer”]It’s decent, and can be good if you already know the grammatical rules of your target language.

Google translate will translate each word, but many languages have words that do not have an equivalent and Google translate will not form correct order of words in sentences to make sense of the meaning. Gender, conjugations, tenses will also be lost.[/box]

Answer #3

[box type=”spacer”]You cannot trust Google Translate as an accurate translator. Google translate can be good, but only to get the general idea of a text, to translate very simple sentences or to translate individual words. Other than that it cannot be trusted as accurate.

I certainly agree with Andrew, you need to have an understanding of the language you are translating into to correct the mistakes yourself. For accurate translation you would be better off using a translation agency or if you have a limited budget you can use online translation websites that use real human translators to get the job done[/box]

I even added my own reply to that thread when I found it while doing some research to see what people were saying about Google Translate.

Turns out that pretty much anyone having used Google Translate with a good knowledge of the other language they were using it for, do agree. Google translate can’t be fully trusted to give you a reliable translation.

Google translate is a cool tool that can help you speed up your translation process, especially for technical terms (that’s why I use it).  It’s also great to help you with quick short sentences you may need if you plan to travel abroad, but it’s not to be trusted like you would a human translator.

Do you want proofs?

Example of a Typical Bad Translations from Google Translate

English Version of a short resume

 Top four skills – programming in .Net, Electrical Engineering design experience, ability to work with people both technical and non-technical, broad background in both hardware and software design. 

I only speak English, very little Japanese from when I used to travel there for HP.  Hardware test engineer, Product Integration Specialist, Manufacturing Engineer

Bad French Translation

There are 5 major errors in the translation, including one that makes the sentence impossible to understand.  Even if you don’t understand French, I’m sure you can appreciate how that many errors in a small 4 line description is way too many.

The highlighted segments are Google Translate errors. Between parentheses are my corrected translations of those errors.

Les quatre compétences (compétences principales) – programmation dans le filet (de la toile), de l’expérience (expérience) de conception en génie électrique, capacité à travailler avec des gens (des personnes) à la fois techniques et non techniques, vaste expérience dans le matériel et la conception de logiciels.

 Je ne parle que l’anglais, très peu de japonais à partir de quand je l’habitude d’y voyager pour HP (depuis que l’époque ou je travaillais outremer pour HP).  Ingénieur de test de matériel, spécialiste de l’intégration de produit, ingénieur de fabrication

It’s almost just as bad in the Spanish translation where I also found 5 errors as well in just about the same areas as the French version.

Bad Spanish Translation

Top cuatro habilidades (Cuatros mas altas habilidades)- Programación en Red (en la web), Ingeniería Eléctrica experiencia en diseño, capacidad de trabajar con las personas, tanto técnicos (técnicas) como no técnicos,(técnicas) amplia experiencia en hardware y diseño de software.

Sólo hablo inglés, muy poco de japonés de cuando yo solía viajar allí para HP (desde cuando estaba viajando para HP).  Ingeniero de pruebas de hardware, especialista en la integración de productos, ingeniería de fabricación

Conclusion

Now, if you were to trust Google Translate and send such resume, you’d be sending the wrong message, wouldn’t you?

If you didn’t know French or Spanish well enough to correct the errors, it would be better that you’d not trust Google Translate and ask someone who knows, or be honest with the recipient and tell them that you are not fluent in the language.

I hope this was helpful information if you were still wondering if Google Translate is a reliable translating software. Please, leave your comments below.

 

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43 Comments

  • Carolyn Nicander MohrTwitter: wonderoftech says:

    Hi Sylviane, This is very helpful information coming from a professional translator! Yes, i don’t see Google Translate putting you out of business. Google Translate is an excellent example of how tech isn’t always better than humans!

    My girls take Spanish in school and each year they are warned by the teacher not to rely on Google Translate. I think the teacher knows when it’s being used and abused!

    That being said, Google Translate can be very helpful in trying to understand a foreign language. Sometimes visitors to my blog link back to websites in a language I don’t understand. A quick click of my Google Translate extension will tell me whether the site is legit or spammy.

    Thanks for sharing your wisdom with us, Sylviane!
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    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi Carolyn,

      I actually found your name in relation to Google Translate as I was doing some research on what people said about it. I didn’t have the time to click, but I figured that you had written about it once 🙂

      The example that you are giving is just the right way of using Google Translate; when you want to get a general idea of what is said on a language you don’t understand, but not as a reliable tranlator.

      Thank you for your input and have a fantastic day!

  • AdrienneTwitter: adriennesmith40 says:

    Hey Sylviane,

    I don’t really use it because when blogs connect to me in another language then I don’t want to have to go to the trouble of translating it. I also don’t allow them to link to me either.

    Like you said, there are tools like Google Translate just for this reason though. Maybe I’m not being fair but I only know one language and that’s English I’m afraid. I guess since I live in America and have a very low tolerance for people who refuse to learn our language but want the same rights as us, I just stick to my guns on this one.

    I’m sure others though want to know about this because like Carolyn, others have written about this as well.

    Thanks for letting us know though that it’s not 100% spot on.

    Enjoy your week and hope we can all get together later this week.

    ~Adrienne
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    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi Adrienne,

      I have to say that I am with you. If you want to live in a country, you learn the darn language. My mother used to be shocked to see all those Spanish people living here and not speaking English.

      She came only 3 months out of the year and was almost always with me when she went anywhere, but still after her stay she couldn’t wait to go back to a country where she could understand what people were saying, so she surely couldn’t understand those Spanish folks here.

      But again, this country makes things worse, translating everything for them, and even paying interpreters like me anywhere from $30 to $100+ an hour, to make sure they’re understood. That doesn’t help the case for sure.

      You were born here and lived here all your life, so you had no reason to learn another language, unless you did it for fun. So, there nothing wrong with that.

      Thank you for your input and have a fantastic day!

  • Kumar GaurawTwitter: kgauraw says:

    Hi Sylviane,
    Wow! I never thought about using an automated tool for an accurate job (especially when I am writing an important document). Simply for the reasons you mentioned. The target language has its rules of grammar and it has it’s own little style which a tool probably can’t really catch.

    I would rather rely on a human being when I care for accuracy. But yes, this can be a handy tool when you are just looking to get a sense of something from a foreign language into English. Why? Because something is better than nothing 🙂

    Thank you for a very detailed post with a lot of great examples!

    Regards,
    Kumar
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    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi Kumar,

      That’s right, something is always better than nothing, and Google Translate can be a helper in this regard, but definitely wont’ replace a translator.

      Thanks for your feedback, and have a great day!

  • Donna MerrillTwitter: donna_tribe says:

    Hi Sylviane,

    Thank you for this extensive review of Google Translate. Personally, I wouldn’t use it to write anything because I only know English. Anything I write, I like to proof read, so I couldn’t trust it from the beginning.

    I can see how you illustrated how wacky those translations are! As a professional translator and writer, I can understand YOU using it from time to time because you know the languages and grammar, etc.

    But for me, no way would I use it. There have been some people trying to come to my blog with a different language. I tried to use Google translator and I didn’t understand a darn thing they were saying.

    I write in English and only accept things on my blog written in English.

    You made me laugh what you said about your mom above! My grandparents came from Italy and the first thing they did was go to school to learn English. “If we live here we have to speak the language” They would only talk English but when they didn’t want us kids to know what they were talking about they would speak Italian. lol

    -Donna
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    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi Donna,

      Yes, I am aware that many of you commenting on this blog have no personal use for Google translate. Why would you use it for? Except maybe to know a few expressions in a language from a country you’d be going to, like France, right?

      I know a lot of people would do what your grandparents did, speak in their mother tongue so the kids wouldn’t understand. Yes, my mom never got it that those Spanish folks wouldn’t learn English, but for knowing them well, I can say this, most of the time it’s due to the fact that they are close to illiterate, so learning a foreign language for them it’s very hard.

      Thanks for coming Donna, and for sharing your experience.

  • Corina Ramos says:

    Hello Sylviane,

    When I was growing up my family talked to me in English (I didn’t learn Spanish until my early 20’s) but they talked to each other in Spanish slang and that’s what I was taught.

    Having talked in Spanish slang has made it difficult for me to talk professionally in Spanish so I don’t but I did encourage my kids to take Spanish so they can learn the right way and they did point out the difference.

    I use Google Translate every now just to make sure I’m translating something correctly but not for professional documents like resumes and such.

    Thanks for your review on this tool. I loved those examples you shared! Have a great new week! Talk to ya soon.

    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi Corina,

      I didn’t know that you grew up around the Spanish language. It’s always a great thing to speak more than one language. I know I certainly cherish that and consider it a blessing.

      No Google Translate is definitely not for any professional documents 😉

      Thank for your input and have a great day!

  • Sherman SmithTwitter: shermanksmith75 says:

    Hey Sylviane,

    I never used Google Translator but have used the translator in Dictionary.com.. I have some friends in the Dominican Republic and I chat with them via Facebook sometimes. There are some things that they say that I put in Dictionary.com, but yet it doesn’t translate it quite as well. It seems like as far as translating, it’s on the same level as the Google Translator. It’s great for small phrases, but if you’re writing a paragraph, then having a human translator will benefit you more! Thanks for the heads up on the Google Translator!
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    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi Sherman,

      I think that no translating software can do the job of a human, they all have their limitations.

      Thanks for coming by, and have a great day!

  • William ButlerTwitter: wiarbu says:

    Hello Sylviane,

    Hope your week is off to a great start.

    I use Google translate frequently for online conversations with people in Brazil, Bulgaria and sometimes Costa Rica. I think Google translate is fine for its proximal translation; rendered close enough for the receiving party to understand it, even if the syntax is incorrect or the verb conjugation is in error. Taken literally, the phrases would be disjointed at their end, but they certainly get the gist.

    If I required translation for professional reasons, I would utilize the services of a professional translator. Hope this is helpful.

    Best Regards,
    Bill
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    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi Bill,

      That’s right you said it all here. Google Translate is better than nothing, but not for anything professional.

      Thank you for coming and have a fantastic day!

  • Ashley FaulkesTwitter: madlemmingz says:

    Hi Sylviane,
    I can definitely relate to this because I am an Australian living in Switzerland (where officially there are 4 languages) and my partner is Beglian (dutch speaking) and we both speak spanish. So languages and translations are a big part of our lives.
    I let google do some minor translations as you mentioned, because they work. But translating a whole page, you have to expect mistakes. It is only good for getting the gist of something or for an emergency. Pros like yourself know that you use these tools as a jump start, and then fine tune it yourself to get it really correct. Languages are so complex that I am not sure there will ever be a complete translation tool until we have walking and talking robots!
    have a great week
    ashley
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    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi Ashley,

      Great, so I’m learning a lot about you just in this comment. I didn’t know you were living in Switzerland. I know this country well enough. Being from France and having and uncle who lived their for a while, I use to go there, and what I remember most was the cleanness and Swiss chocolate. The best in the world!

      Nice to know that you are surrounding by languages.

      Thanks for your visit and input.

  • Tim BonnerTwitter: timbo1973 says:

    Hi Sylviane

    With any tool like this, you have to have the expertise to use it, like you do!

    I’ve used it a couple of times to help with some German I was trying to translate.

    It can give you the gist of things at least but then, as you said, you need to know more about the technical side of a language to know whether the results you get from Google Translate are accurate or not.

    I did use it when I signed up to Amazon sites which weren’t in English. It was very helpful for that!

    I appreciate you sharing your knowledge of Google Translate Sylviane.

    Have a great evening.

    Tim
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    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi Tim,

      For sure, Google Translate is a useful tool as long as we know what to expect. I use it to fast forward my work and then do the editing, but I times I go faster without the confusion of Google Translate. It all depends. This tool is especially good for technical terms. I love it for that.

      Thanks for your input 🙂

  • Jeevan Jacob JohnTwitter: Daringblogger says:

    Hey Sylviane,

    I haven’t particularly used Google for translating (honestly, I haven’t had to). I do use it though, mostly to write (The site does support typing with my language).

    But, I do get your point. Online translating programs aren’t advanced enough to translate whole documents, correctly. Plus, there are no many dialects (even within my own language. One word may mean entirely something else in another part of the country/state).

    Anyways, thank you for sharing the post 🙂 Appreciate it! Hope you had an enjoyable weekend 😀

    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi Jeevan,

      Your language seems to be a tough one, but it’s great that you can use Google to write it.

      It’s definitely a tool that has its pros and cons, so as long as we know this, we’re fine.

      Thank you for coming Jeevan and looking forward for you blog 😉

  • Susan Neal says:

    Hi Sylviane,

    This was a fascinating read! I’ve only ever used Google to translate the very occasional post I’ve accidentally stumbled across that happens to be in another language, and not for anything very important. It never really occurred to me to consider how accurate it might be.

    I can’t imagine ever wanting to translate any of my own content into another language, but after reading this I would certainly use a professional translator rather than relying on Google if I ever did need to do so. I always wonder how authors must feel about having their books translated into languages they don’t speak themselves – there must be a horrible feeling of loss of control, I imagine. How can you be sure the translator’s really putting the right message across, in the right way?

    This makes me wish I did speak at least one other language – I really envy those of you who are multi-lingual. Language teaching is one of the worst aspects of the UK’s education system – if I was Prime Minister it’s one of the first things I’d fix!

    Thanks, Sylviane, for a very enlightening read 🙂

    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Ah Sue, one only can dream of a blog reader like you 🙂 I always love your comments.

      How many times I’ve thought about what you’re saying here. Best Sellers are translated in so many languages that there is no way the author could know them all anyway, and I’d feel a sense of loss too.

      I remember reading a book from Catherine Ponder who is an American author who writes personal development books. I read that book in France years before I could read in English. To this day, I’ve never read that book in it’s original version.

      However, I think that translators do a good job for the most part, but a language having a life of its own always loses in translation. ALWAYS! It’s just the nature of the beast!

      Thank you for your excellent input and have a great day!

  • Akaahan Terungwa says:

    Sylvianne,

    Google translate, being mechanical, has its bunch of problems…what I do is that when I want to use its services, it is usually to get the meaning of a sentence or email generally: I hardly care for specifics!

    If specifics was my desire, I’d sure go the human way!

    Regards,

    – Terungwa

    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi Akaahan,

      Yes, you bet, if you want any translation to be accurate, going to a human translator is the best thing to do. Google is great for exactly the way you’re using it.

      Thank you for your visit. I really appreciate it.

  • Barbara CharlesTwitter: BarbaraCharles says:

    Hi Sylviane,I\’ve done the same as Bill. I have conversations on FB with people from other countries (in their language). Bill\’s right. Google Translate is good for these one on one conversations and they understand just fine. It\’s all about communication in this scenario and it works.I have never thought of using it to compose a letter or use for a resume only because, as a tool, I don\’t know what kind of testing they\’ve done to make sure the translation is correct and as you noted I don\’t know enough about the other language to know if it\’s correct or not. Wouldn\’t want to take that chance for a resume I\’m distributing.Thanks for clearing this up. I always wondered about it\’s accuracy. Good post and very helpful.Barbara
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    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi Barbara,

      Yes, I think that Google Translate is perfect for chit chats, and some type of communication with someone who speaks another language. Never for something real serious.

      I really wrote this post for those who may believe that it’s a sure thing or those who are wondering.

      Appreciate you’re coming by 🙂

  • OktoTwitter: oktohakim says:

    Hi Sylviane,

    I don’t see Google translator do the job correctly. We still need to correct the whole meaning properly or we will miss the real message on the translation. It is good to give preliminary description on other language but not good to leave the job done.
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    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi Okto,

      Yes, that’s right. While Googe Translate will give us some guidance it’s not to be taken as a full proof result tool.

      By the way, I’m mentioning you on this week post. Come and check if you can 🙂

  • Himanshu says:

    I always use Google translater for translating languages which I don’t know.. And Yes, you are right, Google translated messages are not always right. My friend told me about this who also know English language ( he told me in English about the Google error).
    Can you suggest me some alternatives of Google translate??

    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hello Himanshu,

      I am glad that someone made you aware of this. Thank you for coming by and adding your experience with Google Translate.

      Have a great week ahead!

  • EmmanuelTwitter: cudjoe1991 says:

    This isn’t the first time I have heard about this. I for instance can’t read any other language apart from English and so I couldn’t simply authenticate the viability of those allegations but this is one post which has thrown more light on it.
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    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi Emmanuel,

      I can understand that you can’t tell for yourslef, but at the same time this is a good warning for people just like that who can’t verify.

      Thank you for coming by, Emmanuel, and by the way, I’m talking about you on my present (this week) post 😉

  • Michael Belk says:

    Sylviane you makes some valid points. However, I am concerned about the formality vs friendly versions.

    In English, it is common to speak formal to your elders and friendly to your peers.
    The event may play a role also.

    If I saw my co-worker. I would say what is up. If I saw an elderly person I would address them with Good Morning Sir or Ma;am.

    So am surprised this would be such an issue in other languages. I thought people knew when to be formal or friendly.

  • MayuraTwitter: MayuraDeSilva says:

    Hi Sylviane,

    I’m really thankful to your friend for asking you to write about this 🙂 Now, you have written a wonderful post to show how reliable Google Translator is.

    When someone can speak more than one language, he / she might come to know that tools are not that reliable 🙂 But keep progressing. I’m a fan of Google Translator and do use it for simple sentences to communicate with friends. You know, when I comment on something of yours in French, I use GT. Just for fun though 😉 However I just Google and clarify the sentence in other resources to see if it’s the best way to use.

    I agree with you about translating a whole document and I don’t think it is a wise idea at all 🙂 So many mistakes can occur. From developers point of view, translation is quite a harder process to implement too Sylviane. You know, softwares are based on logical assumptions. It won’t be perfect until they fetch all the words in a language to the database and write conditions on using words in different scenarios. Most of the time they come to know of errors as users find ’em and report, so they do correct as it goes while QA team hunt for the mistakes exist.

    I think this is a wonderful post for anyone believe that translation is almost made easy with tools out there 🙂 Especially, students. Once a friend of mine did translate a document in Italian to English. But his language teacher spotted so many errors in it and scored 0 for his assignment 😀 lol…

    Vous avez un beau week-end, Sylviane! 😉

    Cheers…
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    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi Mayura,

      Well, finally I get to write my reply to you. Sorry for the delay.

      I am sure that you as a computer guy only understands even better why such tool can’t act like the human brain.

      I’m glad you enjoyed this topic and have a wonderful week ahead. I already commented on your blog at Adrienne’s! So congratulations my dear 🙂

  • Alysha says:

    Thanks for your perfect information about Google Translation but I personally trying to use this tool for my business but I can’t achieve proper result and I think it translate according to word by word not hole sentence. Can you suggest me any tools which work properly for article marketing in French though I don’t know a word of French.

  • James says:

    Hi Sylviane,

    I have been looking for a well detailed explanation on this issue. I have since know that it can’t be really trusted and accurate.

    Your explanation on it gave clearer understanding, and by the way, do you know of any other site or software that does better than Google translator?

    Thanks for sharing, and have a nice weekend.

  • Mitch says:

    well how is this a big deal, i thought this should be obvious and common knowledge.
    i don’t think we have the technology at this point to create the perfect AI, that’s capable of understanding the meaning behind the words we say rather than comparing keywords.
    it’s not perfect but i believe Google translator is the most advanced civilian translator we have, and keep in mind it’s a free tool, it means there’s no billions of dollars being spent to improve that project unlike military oriented programs.
    and i don’t think big companies with important files would stake their reputation by relying on Google translate, for legal and formal documents they always hire professional translators, with PHD’s .
    i think it’s great that Google would give the public an awesome free tool like this one, that helped people come closer, it doesn’t have to be a 100% for now, just enough to get by!
    Many thanks and Happy holidays!

  • Lynne says:

    I agree! Simple words google can translate but when it comes to a full page document, google tries but I find it a failure.

Comments are closed.