The other day a client asked me if I would check some content she had translated from English into Spanish using Google Translate. She does not speak Spanish so she had a friend read the Google Translate version to see if it made any sense. Her friend told her it was possible to understand the essence of the text but it was full of mistakes and should definitely not be published as it was.
Like many of my fellow translators, I had never used Google Translate except to see how funny the translations can be so I had no idea what to expect. I explained to my client that, as a general rule, translations by Google Translate could be used as a starting point but that often the editing requires so much work that it is easier and faster to just do the translation from scratch.
My client wanted to have a quote before making her decision and I was happy to read the original and analyze the translation to prepare a quote for the project. I was actually curious to see what Google Translate had done.
To my surprise, the translation was not so bad. Granted, some of the sentences did not make any sense and others needed a lot of improvement, however, many sentences were quite good and needed as much or as little editing as average translations done by human translators.
I gave my client a quote, explained the kind of final product she could expect and how much work would be needed to get there. She had a few questions and was satisfied with my answers regarding machine versus human translation. The cost was reasonable to her and I estimated it would take me half the time it would normally take me to translate the same material from scratch.
The actual editing experience was quite fascinating. I usually enjoy editing but this time the most interesting thing was comparing the kind of mistakes and inaccuracies that I came across in this translation with the ones a human translator would produce. Some sentences sounded too literal, some unnatural and some totally incomprehensible. For example, “send back” came out as “devolución de espalda” when it was referring to sending an item back to a place. That one gave me a good laugh.
I should mention that the type of text I was dealing with was quite straightforward, without figurative language such as metaphors or irony. For some of the more creative phrases, Google Translate proved to be completely useless.
Although it took me a little longer than I anticipated, the overall experience was quite intriguing and educational; it had its own specific challenges and proved to be more fun than I expected. At this point, I believe that no Google translation can be publication-ready but Google Translate translations do make for a good starting point, at least for this language combination and type of text.
So, what about you? Have you ever used Google Translate or been asked to edit a Google translation?