To a certain extent, it’s quite amazing that a piece of software can take a piece of text and magically translate it into any languages. Website owners often wonder how accurate those free tools are and if they should use it on their websites. Unfortunately, the result is often dismal. Being native in French, and fairly at ease with Spanish, I always notice a website that has been translated using a free machine translation tool, and it is not pretty.
Now, being that I represent a human translation agency, I’m probably not exactly objective when it comes to machine translation. So, instead of taking my word for it, let’s take a look at a simple example.
Take the below short four sentences paragraph, which I wrote in French, and then translated myself (literally) in English:
Bob travaille pour une petite entreprise au centre-ville. Le travail de Bob consiste dans la réparation d’ordinateurs et l’installation de nouveaux logiciels. Durant ses temps libres, il aime lire, regarder des films et jouer au poker avec ses amis. Bob a 30 ans et vit dans une grande maison avec sa femme et ses enfants.
Bob works for a small company downtown. Bob’s job consists of repairing computers and installing new software. In his spare time, he likes to read, watch movies and play poker with his friends. Bob is 30 years old and lives in a big house with his wife and kids.
Now, I used one of the popular free translation software to translate the same French text. I got the following result:
Bobsled works for a small business to the center city. The work of Bobsled consists in the repair of computers and the installation again software. During its free time, it likes to read, look at films and to play poker with its friends. Bobsled is 30 years old and lives in a big house with his woman and its children.
Four sentences, and already we can spot at least 10 significant mistakes. And don’t ask me why Bob gets translated in Bobsled!
So, let’s take it further. Since many use free machine translation to offer their pages in other languages, let’s try to get a better idea of what get shown to their foreign visitors.
I took the human translated English text and used the machine translation to translate it in French and then retranslate it in English. Here is the result:
Bobsled works for a small company in city. The bobsled work consists in to repair computers and installing again software. In its leisures, it likes to read, look at poker of films and piece with its friends. Bobsled is 30 years old and lives in a big house with his woman and its childlike ones.
Obviously, here, there’s the double effect of the machine translation, but, truth is, machine translation is even worst when translating from English into another language than the other way around. Publishing copy like the one above is like slapping your readers in the face!