Cultivating machine learning to the point that it can truly understand natural language and all of its nuances is major hurdle computer scientists have long attempted to overcome. After all, information is power, and the amount of it that is currently inaccessible to most of us due to language barriers is astounding.
Google Translate seems like the best consumer-level tool we currently have available. Under the right circumstances, it can provide people with a resource that we could barely conceive of just a few years ago. The ability to translate quickly and efficiently means allowing us to tap into a reservoir of human knowledge like never before, but how close are we really to getting there and how accurate is Google Translate?
How Google Translate works
Google Translate was introduced in 2006 as an automatic translation tool and has been evolving ever since. To use it, you simply type in a word or phrase in the text box, choose the language you’re translating, and choose the language you’re translating it to. Simple, right?
Google Translate started by translating foreign text first to English and then into the target language by cross-referencing the text with a profuse number of documents and transcripts.
In 2016, Google took their translation services a step further by pivoting to neural machine translation (NMT)—a deep learning method that essentially involves the use of a broad scope of linguistic sources while looking at whole sentences instead of just words when translating.
While this still yields imperfect results, it provides increased accuracy by evaluating context. The Google Translate app supports over 100 languages and can already provide translations via text, photo, and voice to 32 languages.
Let’s talk accuracy: how accurate is Google Translate
While the Google Translate technology is hardly infallible, it’s certainly useful in a pinch to translate a few words or phrases. If you’ve tried it on a desktop when translating an entire page, you’ll notice it gets the general message across, but is still far from perfect.
For this reason, professional translation services are always the better choice, using real humans to bridge the language barrier gap rather than artificial intelligence. AI still has a long way to go since language involves so many nuances and ambiguity that make translating difficult and not so direct.
So how accurate is Google Translate?
Google’s latest introduction of NMT is allowing their AI to evaluate the greater context of words and phrases to better mimic a real person, which has led to smoother and easier-to-read translations. Additionally, these services are now available for offline use—perfect for traveling or when you don’t have access to the internet. But despite their best efforts, Google Translate is hardly a reliable and consistent translation solution, especially for businesses.
Lost in translation
Since every business values search engine optimization (SEO)—or should—as well as the importance of getting things done right, it’s worth noting how Google Translate can impact a company’s website rankings.
If you have a user in another country using their native language to search your site, simply having Google Translate available on your website won’t help much, unfortunately. This translation service option can only be used to translate the content once the user is already on the site and selects the option to use it, making it pretty useless when it comes to international SEO ranking.
This would require businesses to actually create web pages in multiple languages using SEO best practices. Not only is this a great international SEO strategy, but it will also capture your audience in a meaningful way.
Rather than relying on AI translation tools, it’s best to leverage professional translation services so things like syntax, colloquialisms, and other language nuances are nothing short of perfect for these multilingual pages.
One other caveat – the Google Translate widget used to translate entire sites has been completely deprecated by Google. That means no new users can sign up and current users may wake up one day to find that their site is no longer translated. This was due partly to the inaccurate nature of the translations.
Google Translate has without a doubt transformed the way in which we approach language. With their offline translation app, quick communication has never been easier and cheaper.
However, until the technology has evolved to the point where communication between languages has been perfected, nothing comes close to having a real person doing the translation.