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First, let me specify that the purpose of this article is not to trash the Google Translate (GT) tool, but rather to point out its appropriate and inappropriate uses.
If you have clients or colleagues who write to you in another language, it can be quite practical to use GT to grasp the gist of what they’re saying. Similarly, you can use GT as you surf the net to get a general understanding of information presented in a foreign language. While travelling, you can use GT to communicate with locals. A less-than-perfect Google translation may even suffice for informal internal communication being sent out to cubicle monkeys. You get the picture: some translations really don’t need to be perfect. So you don’t need to use a professional translator all of the time.
That said, however, GT is definitely not the kind of tool you should use to market your products or services. The inevitable errors produced by GT will render your company unprofessional and will communicate that you really don’t care about either your target audience or corporate image.
Context is everything in translation. This is where GT fails miserably, because it takes human intelligence to understand the context and translate the message properly. Here’s a straightforward sentence: “The weather forecast is for showers.” If you punch it into GT, you’ll get “La prévision météo est douches.” The human translator would know that the word “showers” must be translated as “averses” in this context. If GT makes major errors when given such simple sentences, how do you think it fares with more complex sentences?
Furthermore, GT is unable to accurately translate slang or colloquial expressions. For example, if you type “It’s raining cats and dogs” in GT, you’ll get “Il pleut des chats et des chiens.” The correct translation should be either “Il pleut des cordes” or “Il pleut des clous.” Popular sayings and idioms are often used in advertising to capture the reader’s attention, and GT will fail to properly translate these expressions the majority of the time.
GT is technology that was created by humans and is meant to be used by humans. It’s not meant to replace humans. It’s simply a tool. Although GT can be used for certain practical purposes, it’s never appropriate to use GT to translate your websites, brochures or marketing material. Human translators—not machines—are the only ones you can trust to accurately and professionally translate the important messages you want to get across. After all, the quality of your translations speaks volumes about your customer service and corporate image!
Myles McKelvey, Certified Translator
Translation, Editing & Copywriting