Google Translate is an incredible tool. It’s fast, easy to use, and even available for offline use—perfect for quick translations when you’re on the go. And when you think about the technology involved and how it’s evolved since its inception in 2006—it’s simply amazing.
With that said, Google Translate is a useful tool when used for the right task. Remember, Google Translate is an automated translation software that cannot properly convey all of the nuances and meaning in languages that a human translator would.
Let’s take a look at when you should and shouldn’t use Google Translate and how your company stands to benefit from both sides.
Google Translate: when to use it
So when does Google Translate work, and when doesn’t it? Google Translate is great for quick translations that do not need to be perfect. If you want to translate a piece of text to see what it says in your own language, Google Translate will translate well enough that you can piece together the general meaning of the text. Basically, Google Translate works in a pinch and can provide anyone with a fair approximation of a translation.
A “fair approximation,” however, is obviously not as good as being flawless. Nothing quite compares to using a human translator, especially for important tasks like translating a website.
While Google Translate may save the day for a traveler in a foreign country trying to run some quick and cheap translations, the same can’t be said for businesses, especially those who care about their online presence and tapping into an international market.
When to not use it
One of the best ways to optimize a website that caters to multiple countries, for example, is through translating its content and implementing a strong international SEO strategy. At this point in machine learning, Google Translate cannot provide the same level of reliable translations as a human translator can.
While machine learning is allowing services like Google Translate to become more and more accurate—better enabling fast and easy translation services—it simply doesn’t hold up to the efficiency and accuracy of a real human translation. Below are just a few reasons why.
1. Humans can better replicate tone and style
Whether it’s a blog, academic essay, scientific journal, or some other text, you can expect varying writing styles and tones for each one. Some may have a serious and authoritative tone, while others may be more laid-back or funny. This is something Google Translate cannot detect and replicate. If you leave this to a machine to translate, it’s likely that the meaning and intended message will be lost—leaving the document sounding potentially flat and empty.
Writing styles and tones, especially persuasive papers or poetic texts, are extremely difficult for machines to translate. A person reading these types of texts will inevitably lose the significance and true meaning behind the words.
2. Humans understand culture
While it may one day be possible, machines currently do not have an understanding of all of the cultures of the world and their unique linguistic styles. For example, a human can much more easily understand text that contains slang, metaphors, and idioms than a machine.
Having a human translator who has a firm grasp of a language and the culture it’s derived from can produce reliable text equivalents in the appropriate language so that meaning is not lost.
3. Humans can better connect words and context
Much of understanding the written word lies in context. Sometimes, words have multiple meanings, which can be a challenge for machines to pick up on. Human translators have the natural ability to factor in things like context clues to grasp the text’s true meaning. For example, the word crane has three different meanings! A woman can crane her neck, a crane is a type of bird, and construction workers may need a crane to lift a heavy object.
Human translation is better. Period.
Language can be tricky, especially for a machine running word-to-word translations. While Google Translate and other machine translation services have certainly come a long way and will continue to evolve in their ability to translate, they have a very long way to go to catch up to the professional expertise that only a qualified human translator can provide.