The Perils of Machine Translation…

“Please feel free to ask us questions and take a look at our website for further information.”

This sentence was translated into French using an online machine translation tool. The French product was translated into Spanish. The Spanish product was translated into Portuguese. The Portuguese product was translated into Maltese. The Maltese product was translated into Danish. The Danish product was translated back into English.

The final product was “Do not hesitate to ask questions and check out our website for more information.” Considering the amount of languages that sentence went through, it is a phenomenon that the final result was so good. Yes, it lacks some of the finesse of the original sentence, but it is readable, it is grammatically and syntactically correct, and it would not require a great deal of post-editing. It serves to show how much machine translation has progressed in recent years, to a point where it is far more reliable than it used to be.

Why use a human translator? Because no amount of machinery is going to be familiar with the culture of another country. It may, for example, struggle with idiomatic expressions. It may provide a grammatically correct product, fooling you into thinking it is a correct translation, but often it is misguiding. The same experiment was repeated with the sentence below:

“I’m not going to sit here twiddling my thumbs until you make up your mind.”

This was the result:

“I’m not staying here, sat thumbs until you get the idea.”

Not only is this grammatically incorrect and makes no sense, it is wrong. “Make up your mind” and “you get the idea” are two completely different concepts in English. One involves a decision and the other one involves comprehension. Yet if you hadn’t seen the first sentence, you may well assume this sentence is saying “I’m not staying here, twiddling my thumbs until you understand”, which would give you a completely different understanding of the text. Beware of the perils of machine translation!