Editing Google Translations

November 10, 2012 // From our blog »

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friend told her it was possible to understand the essence of the text but it was full of mistakes and should definitely not be published as it was.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?

Comments »

  1. Patrick Ganne says / dijo: 11-23-2012

    I equally find it useful as a starting point. As I do not use an AZERT keyboard for English to French translations, I find google translate very useful fog the placement of accents.

    • Jose B. Caceres says / dijo: 11-24-2012

      If you are using a USA English keyboard you have all the accents necessary for French or for Portuguese which is also as complicate. I always use USA keyboard for any western language.

  2. Giovanna Scarpa says / dijo: 11-23-2012

    I think Google translation is useful only if you know the language but if you don’t know it can give you the wrong translation

  3. Jose B. Caceres says / dijo: 11-24-2012

    Actually, I find Google is a good help for an experienced translator. If you have the original text in Word, (time insumed in converting it into Word would dilute the advantage) you translate it with Google. You will be surprised how many times you will get acceptable translations you can use straighforward. Another advantage is that even if the result is akward, it will suggest words you can use. Also, if there are numbers, or addresses or dates, or proper names, it will copy them for you. This morning I was translating a document of a lady: there was her full name, her address in full detail, her e-mail…. all this occupied two full lines of the page. Google gave it to me ready. A word of warning. I am in Lima, Peru. Here as in Spain and all Spanish-speaking countries we have the bad trick of using our mother’s maiden surname right after our own (or paternal surname). Google always changes the order of the names, so you may find your given name as paternal surname, etc.

  4. Alex M. says / dijo: 11-25-2012

    I can confirm what you’ve all concluded, but for English into Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian. The editing experience is just the same: some sentences are flawless, some need only inflection editing, and some require referring back to the original text since Google didn’t make any sense out of it. It’s useful for cutting back on your typing time and effort, other than that – yes, editing itself is nearly as time consuming as translating from scratch. In some instances, Google offered better solutions for certain words than I would have come up with! So never underestimate it. Rather use it as a great ever improving tool.

  5. Sol Vargas says / dijo: 11-26-2012

    Thank you all for commenting.
    @Giovana: If you don’t know the language, you can only get a general idea of what the text is about but there is no way of knowing if the translation is accurate or not.

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