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Why You Shouldn't Trust Google Translate

December 7, 2021


For many monolinguals, Google Translate has been a godsend. Gone are the days of thumbing through a Spanish-to-English dictionary searching for the word you just heard. Now when you overhear something in Spanish you can just plug it into a simple text box and find out what it means. 

But anyone who has experience with Google Translate in real life situations, knows those answers can miss the mark. As often as not, the translation Google provides is inaccurate, or only one variation that may not fit all situations, despite coming from one of the largest technology companies on the planet. 

It might seem like this technological gap when it comes to translation is incompetence or laziness, but the reasons for Google’s shoddy translation services are actually pretty simple. 

It’s Free

You want your translation to be three things: good, fast, and inexpensive. But you can only pick two. With Google Translate you get an instant translation completely for free, so it seems a little selfish to ask for more than that. When someone brings in cookies to the office you don’t complain if they’re bad, you just thank them. 

Google Translate isn’t a paid service where you can demand a refund after poor service. There isn’t even a review system for warning other users that your translation was incorrect. The reason for this is simple: you get what you pay for. 

You might think that the world’s most popular languages would get more accurate translations, but this is surprisingly untrue. One study of Google Translate’s effectiveness found Afrikaans to have the most accurate translations, while the seventh most spoken language, Bengali, was completely inaccurate in every attempt. 

But don’t expect big changes any time soon. With limited manpower, Google is going to focus its efforts on maintaining and upgrading its paid services before they focus on unpaid programs like Translate. 

It’s Instant

Instant translations are like fast food. They aren’t better, just faster. There’s nothing wrong with a fast food once in a while, but it’s no substitute for what you really need. 

Sometimes this quick and free model is effective, like with Google’s chat interpretation services. When you’re chatting with a relative, colleague, or customer who speaks English as a second language, being able to quickly ask Google for an interpretation can spare you a major misunderstanding. That instantaneous solution is worth a potential mistranslation, but can cause other problems when it comes to large-scale meetings.

Machines Don’t Understand Idioms

Idioms are a common part of everyday conversation in every language. Whether you’re tabling a topic for later discussion or up to your eyeballs in work, everyone bites the bullet and uses idioms. But different languages use different expressions, and translating them literally can cause confusion. You don’t want your Chinese-speaking counterparts to actually break a leg when you wish them luck. 

A great example is “It’s all Greek to me.” When you translate this classic expression into Greek using Google it becomes “all Greek for me.” While this is technically close to what you said, the literal translation doesn’t imply confusion the way it should. That’s because in Greece they say, “Are you speaking Turkish?” when someone says something they don’t understand. 

This is an expression that’s different in every language. “It’s Chinese to me” in Lithuania. “This sounds like Spanish” in Macedonia. “I don’t speak Hebrew” in Portuguese. 

Now consider that every idiom is as challenging to translate into other languages. That’s why translating prepared statements for non-English speakers can lead to incorrect and sometimes offensive mistakes. 

So why trust Google Translate for major events, business meetings, and political functions where a single misspoken word can cause catastrophic damage? Effective translation services won’t just pick a word that’s technically correct, they’ll choose the best possible word for conveying your meaning clearly and precisely. 

Learn more about the world’s leading translation services today by calling the language experts at ProLingo: 800.287.9755.

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