Recently, we have noticed a reoccurring article popping up in our Google searches about a small Spanish town, As Pontes, advertising for an upcoming food festival. The local municipality decided to use Google translate in order to advertise for the event, translating words between Spanish and the local language. Unbeknownst to everyone in the town for weeks, the online translator had misunderstood the word “grelo” a locally grown green being featured in the food festival, and rendered it into a term for a body part in the female anatomy. This went unnoticed for some time before people starting catching the unfortunate mistake that had been made resulting in a big embarrassment.
We see many examples of these types of errors that may only be one word off, but like we see in this case, that one word can make all the difference. What is interesting and very important when considering online or automated translation, is the comment made by a spokesperson from Google directly. He admitted that, “Google Translate is an automatic translator – that is, it works without the intervention of human translators, using state-of-the-art technology instead.” They also went on to say “since the translations are generated by machines, not all translation will be perfect and sometimes there will be mistakes or mistranslations.” This is the problem. People are more and more frequently turning to online translators to avoid the costs associated with using an actual translation company. However, no matter the level of technology you are using, there are special nuances in language that only humans are able to detect. Even the best translation tools will translate word for word; only the words it knows or has in its dictionary and does not consider the context. It can possibly be at best grammatically incorrect, but can also turn into complete unrelated nonsense or even something derogatory, as in the case of the food festival.
This is not to put the blame on the tools themselves; they are doing the best with what technology exists right now. It is up to the individuals using a translation tool to make a judgement call as to the costs being saved by using online translation and foregoing a real linguist. Are you willing to risk the bad press that may come with an incorrect translation, turning your message into a joke and negating any information or promotion you are trying to convey? With the added cost of a professional translation comes peace of mind that what is translated is appropriate to the market and the situation at hand.