Google’s search engine is great. Everybody loves it. Google Translation is a different story. From time to time, I have to convince my clients not to use Google Translation to generate Chinese for their websites or documents.
Google translation is an efficient tool to
- get a rough idea about a foreign website or document
- learn to pronounce foreign words
However, Google Translation is NOT something you should use for formal translation, such as for your business website or marketing collateral. Google Translation has an issue of accuracy. I want to give you some real life examples.
Example 1 – Eat Well or Not?
A Caucasian stands next to the English Couplets: Eat Well Sleep Well Have Fun Day by Day, Study Hard Work Hard Make Money More and More.
Putting up couplets by the door with blessing words to celebrate the Chinese New Year is a long tradition in China. This English Couplets sum up a prevailing life philosophy in China these days, in an amusing and comical way.
This image went viral online during 2016 Chinese New Year. Not because Chinese found the Caucasian guy or the English funny, they were entertained by the Google Translation of English to Chinese. It generates two versions of translation, one contradicting the other.
To find out what went wrong, I decided to conduct an experiment.
First, I key in word by word “eat well sleep well have fun day by day”. Google Translation comes up with “吃好睡好有一天愉快的一天” (my translation of Google Translation: eat well sleep well have a day a happy day).
Next, I input “Eat Well Sleep Well Have Fun Day By Day” with each first letter in capital. Something surprising shows up: “吃不好睡不好有无乐趣天天” （ my translation: not eat well not sleep well have and have no fun day by day).
I am confused. Let me try the other half of the Couplets and follow the same process.
First is “study hard work hard make money more and more”. Google Translation comes back with “努力学习，努力工作赚钱，越来越多的” (my translation: study hard, work hard make money, more and more).
Next, “Eat Well Sleep Well Have Fun Day By Day “ with each first letter in capital. I get “研究勤学肯干赚钱更多” (my translation: research study hard work hard make more money). I am not sure where Google Translation has picked up “research”.
It is puzzling that the same line with or without capital letters generates different, even contradictory, results in Google Translation.
Example 2 – 1 million or 100 million?
Example 1 is about English - Chinese language pair. Let’s look into English - Japanese. One handy example is the recent announcement about Nintendo ’s first mobile app Miitomo. Miitomo amassed over 1 million users in just three days since its release.
Miitomo Japan’s announcement in Twitter:
I copy and paste the Japanese announcement into Google Translation. Voila! Google Translation multiplied the number of new users by 10 times from 1 million to 100 million.
I search " Miitomo 100 million users" in Google. Here is the screen shoot of some search results. I speculate that one or two major media used Google Translation to do the translation with some human editing before releasing the news. However the mistake of the number of users was overlooked. The news has been picked up by different channels.
Example 3 – Harvard Business Review
Let’s see how Google Translation does with a longer and more structured paragraph from Harvard Business Review:
“A recent study by three professors at Purdue’s Krannert School of Management is part of a growing mountain of evidence of the superior and more lasting performance of companies where the founder still plays a significant role as CEO, chairman, board member, or owner or adviser. Specifically, the study found that S&P 500 companies where the founder is still CEO are more innovative, generate 31% more patents, create patents that are more valuable, and are more likely to make bold investments to renew and adapt the business model — demonstrating a willingness to take risk to invent the future.”
The following is the Chinese translation by Google Translation. Unfortunately, the translation of Chinese is barely comprehensible.
“在管理普渡大学克兰纳特学校最近的一项研究由三位教授是公司的高级和更持久的性能，其中的创始人仍起担任CEO，董事长，董事会成员或所有者或顾 问一显著的作用越来越多的证据山的一部分。具体而言，研究发现，标准普尔500家公司，其中创始人仍然是CEO是更多的创新，创造更多的31％的专利，创 造的专利更有价值，更有可能大胆投资，以恢复和适应的商业模式 - 展现着愿意承担风险去创造未来。”
Example 4 – Whose debt?
The following is news by Caixin Media Company. The main idea is the acquisition attempt of Sharp by Hon Hai Group, the parent company of Foxconn, is getting bumpy. The negotiation between Sharp and Hon Hai is prolonged. Hon Hai is asking Sharp’s lenders Mizuho Bank and Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ to increase the financing quota and lower loan interest given that Hon Hai will take on the debt from Sharp after the acquisition.
The following is Google Translation’s English translation. One of the obvious mistakes is that Google Translation confuses the lender with the debtor.
“[Financial new network] (Reporter Wang Qionghui) the parent company of Foxconn, Taiwanese manufacturing giant Hon Hai Group's acquisition of veteran Japanese electronics company Sharp twists and turns, the negotiations are moving toward permanent.
Nikkei reported that there could be around for future liabilities Sharp "contingent liabilities" and other issues, Sharp Foxconn required to hold debt of Mizuho Bank and Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ Sharp amount of additional financing, and require lower interest rate debt.”
The clear and important take-away from the above examples is that, until Google Translation improves its algorithms to decode human languages, we still have to count on human beings to translate and deliver content that is accurate and faithful to the original language.