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How accurate is Google Translate, really?

Google Translate
Google Translate

Something always gets lost in translation.

That’s what IKEA found out when a Reddit user slipped its “Gosa Raps” pillow into Google Translate and got back “Cuddle Rapes.”

Now that Google Translate works in 50 languages offline for Android phones (which makes it sound like a great travel app), it seemed like a perfect time to test what works, and what doesn’t. Spoiler alert: Proper nouns, beware.

We decided to send the following snippet from the New York Times to a group of translators working in French, Spanish, and Mandarin. The bit is a challenge to Google Translate because of the various forms of verbs, proper nouns, and language that’s idiomatically American. And f you think common colloquialisms won’t pop up when you’re traveling or need a translation, think about how often you’re looking for a “cool” restaurant – how likely are you phrase this as a “popular with fashionable people” restaurant? We’re willing to bet not all that often. Here’s the snippet: 

Elaine Stritch is leaving New York.

That is not last month’s news, it is simply her agenda for this early spring day: a trip to the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, where she is to sit on a stage and chat about her career, first as a Broadway scene-stealer, more recently as a cabaret regular and a guest star on sitcoms like “30 Rock.”

It is only 10:30 a.m., and already there is trouble. The limousine service sent a sport utility vehicle to the Carlyle Hotel, where she lives. She had it sent back.

Here are the results. 

The French human translation:

Elaine Stitch quitte New York.

Ce n’est pas une nouvelle du mois dernier, c’est simplement son agenda pour ce jour de printemps : une excursion au Centre des Arts de Spectacle de Newark, où elle va se retrouver sur scène pour parler de sa carrière, d’abord comme une vedette de Broadway et plus récemment, comme habituée de cabaret et invitée des séries comme « 30 Rock ».

Il n’est que 10h30 et il y a déjà un problème. La compagnie de limousines avait envoyé un quatre-quatre chez elle, à l’Hôtel Carlyle. Elle l’a renvoyé.

And when it’s back in English via Google Translate:

Elaine Stitch leaves New York.

This is not a new last month, it’s just his agenda for this spring day: a trip to the Center of Performing Arts in Newark, where she will be on stage to talk about his career, first as a Broadway star and most recently as accustomed cabaret and guest shows like “30 Rock.”

It’s only 10:30 ET there is already a problem. The limousine company had sent a four-wheel her to the Hotel Carlyle. She returned.

Words like “sports utility vehicle” which can be described in different ways like Jeep, SUV, or four-wheeler with slightly different meanings don’t translate well. Neither do non-standard past, present, and future tenses of words to such an extent that the meaning is obscured. Possessives, especially in Romance languages where they are often attached to the verbs get lost as you can see from “She returned” at the end of the Google Translation, versus the “She had it sent back” in the original text. 

If you’d like a Google Translate alternative to compare, here’s the electronically generated French translation from the original text:

Elaine Stritch quitte New York.

Ce n’est pas les nouvelles du mois dernier, il est tout simplement son ordre du jour pour cette journée de printemps précoce: un voyage dans le New Jersey Performing Arts Center à Newark, où elle est de s’asseoir sur une scène et de discuter de sa carrière, d’abord comme Broadway scène stealer, plus récemment, un cabaret régulière et une guest star sur sitcoms comme “30 Rock”.

Ce n’est que 10h30, et déjà il ya des problèmes. Le service de limousine envoyé un véhicule utilitaire sport à l’Hôtel Carlyle, où elle vit. Elle l’avait renvoyé.

The Spanish and Mandarin translations prove quite the same.

Spanish, human translation:

Elaine Stritch se va de Nueva York.

No es una noticia del mes pasado, pero simplemente un punto en la agenda para este día de primavera: un viaje al centro de artes escénicas en Newark, donde va a sentarse y hablar de su carrera, primero como una estrella de Broadway, últimamente como asidua del cabaré y estrella invitada en comedias como “30 rock”.

Solo son las diez y media, y ya hay problemas. El servicio de limusina envió un todoterreno al Carlyle Hotel, donde ella vive. Ella tenía que devolverlo.

And back into English via Google Translate:

Elaine Stritch is leaving New York.

There is news of last month, but just a point on the agenda for this spring day: a trip to the Performing Arts Center in Newark, where it will sit and talk about his career, first as a Broadway star, most recently as assiduous cabaret and guest starred in comedies such as “30 rock”.

It’s only half past ten, and there are already problems. Limousine service sent a jeep to Carlyle Hotel, where she lives. She had to return it.

And the human, Mandarin version:

Elaine Stritch即将离开纽约。

这不是老消息,只是她这个初春天的计划:去纽瓦克的新泽西表演艺术中心分享她的演出经历,首先当在百老汇做演员,最近做一位卡巴莱歌手及美剧《我为喜剧狂》特别角色。

才早上10点半,但是已经有问题了。交通公司拍了一辆越野车到她定居的酒店。她把车拍会去了。

And back into English via Google Translate.

Elaine Stritch is about to leave New York.

This is not old news, but her plan in the early spring: Newark, New Jersey Performing Arts Center to share her performance experience, first of all when an actor on Broadway, recently did a cabaret singer and U.S. drama “mad comedy” special role.

Before 10:30 in the morning, but has been a problem. Transport companies took a sport utility vehicle to the hotel to settle her. She shot the car will go.

There you have it: Google Translate is not the be all, end all some of us might think it is. 

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