The free, online machine translation service that we know as Google Translate has been with us since 2007. Nevertheless, the tool is as subject now to misunderstanding by ill-informed users as it ever was, mainly because what we want it to do (just translate!) remains as complex a task for computers as it does for humans.
We are simply not there yet — there being that mythical future-space where we fly USS Enterprise-like between far-flung locales with nary a confused word between us and them, whoever “them” may be in this episode of our travels.
And although we very much want to simply click a button and have the sparkling translator dust work its magic, we still actually need a little elbow grease (i.e., work) to make it happen the way it should.
So, without further ado, here’s how you can get the best out of Google Translate.
Ask Yourself, “Is This the Right Tool?”
So you want to use Google Translate to translate something. Well, what that something is actually matters.
Let’s pretend that you are a U.S. pharmaceutical producer with a product that you would like to place on the Chinese market. Without being facetious, let’s sum up three reasons why Google Translate would not be the right tool for the job:
The highly technical terminology of your sector is unlikely to be translated correctly by an unspecialized machine translation tool like Google Translate.
Not all language pairs translate equally well. Statistically, Google Translate performs better from Chinese into English than from English into Chinese.
Online machine translations are designed for the general public so lack the style (and polish!) of professional writing and translation services.
Would these same rules apply to the U.S. pharmaceutical professional writing to the Chinese travel agency through which she is booking her first ever visit to the Great Wall of China? No. While she would still achieve far greater understanding, the stakes are far lower and the target audience perhaps far more adept at understanding “Google Translate speak”!
That is to say, use Google Translate for what it was intended — general public use — to achieve best results.
Create … With Caution
Even when translating text that passes the right tool test above, you should still proceed with caution. Google Translate is not a fluent, native speaker in any language. So while “my god was it raining like hell all of this vacay!” will be understood by many native English speakers, the translations for native speakers of other language might just raise more laughter than sympathy. Sure, “it rained a lot during our vacation” may not have the same flair, but aim for comprehension first.
- Check your text for slang.
- Scrub your text of unusual idioms.
- Spell check your text.
- Correct grammatical errors.
- Ditch or spell out confusing abbreviations.
Re-Create With A Vengeance
Okay, so you may be using an online translation tool because you are not confident that translating the text yourself will get it right. But you probably know some of the rules of the target language. (If you are translating into your own native language, hopefully you will know more than some!) Reclaim, human, your power back from the machine!
Post-editing of translated texts is a must, whether you are a Google Translate newbie or a translation industry professional. While Google Translate gets mad props from inside the translation industry and continues to outperform its competitors in even casual tech surveys, machine translation simply has not replaced the need for human review. Even simple issues like the use of formal versus informal address can still flummox it, resulting in a “hey, honey!” sounding more like “greetings to you, Mrs. Jar of Sweetness.”
Use what you know of the language to guide you, use other online tools (dictionaries, grammar guides, etc.), or have the translation reviewed by a native speaker of the target language.
Do these things and you can work Google Translate like a boss!
Have your own tips to share for how to get the best out of Google Translate? Add them to the comments below.