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Can google translate be trusted?

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In the course of their work, translators sometimes have to face allegations like "Looks as if it was Google Translate!" Most people, however, often fail to consider that this is virtually impossible. We offer a closer view on the capabilities Google Translate and its boundaries!

The Google Translate service, or the equivalent "Translate" function offered by the Google search engine is a fast and handy piece of software. It is especially helpful when you do know the word you want to use, but, all of a sudden, it just slips out of your memory. You do have it at the tip of your tongue, but you are totally unable to remember it. In this case, typing the required term into the translation field within the search engine can help you find the word you seek. Or, at least, a synonym thereof. But what happens when you enter an entire phrase?

This summer, the classical novel "Zama", written in 1956 in Argentina by Antonio Di Benedetto, finally became available in English. The translator who worked on the book, Esther Allen, dedicated six years of her life to the mission of bringing this book to American readers, and Google Translate proved to be completely useless in her efforts. At that, as the translator herself acknowledges, she did enter phrases and sentences into the program every now and then, driven by curiosity, in order to compare the Google translation to her own version. As it is often the case, the result was nothing but laughter through tears. And here is the reason.

Google Translate is not actually a translation tool. It is a search engine that browses through vast arrays of data containing already translated materials to find matches with the word, phrase or sentence you have entered. A couple of years ago, for example, the New York Times held an experiment, which involved the processing of texts written by famous classics of literature with Google Translate. Their results came as a pleasant surprise. They found that the software is actually capable of translating literary compositions properly as well. Unfortunately, the main drawback of the experiment was that the books used for translation were the One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez and The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Two novels that enjoy world renown – and have already been translated into just about every language spoken around the world.

Of course, human translators make mistakes too, but there is yet another major drawback peculiar to machine translation: the loss of personality. To put in in a more literary manner, machine translations lack the vital elements of personality, character traits or the storyteller's time stretch. It is incapable of conveying the same plenitude of soul, vividness, emotions and characteristics as the author initially did while writing the text. Yes, Google Translate is definitely a convenient and handy application, yet it cannot be used as the base of a translation. As it was already stated above, it is a great auxiliary tool you can use when you have to remember a word or a phrase you forgot.


If you ever heard the song called "Hello" by Adele, you might want to check out the experiment carried out by a certain girl. Here, you can see what happens to the famous hit by that British singer when it gets translated into a number of languages and then back to English by means of Google Translate. For example, this could be English to Korean, Macedonian, Japanese, Icelandic, Uzbek and, eventually, back to English. This is what came up as a result. The upper section of the video shows the original lyrics, whereas the resulting translation can be read below.


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