Google Translate. Part two – making the most of it.
From learning a new language to accessing foreign news articles to connecting with family in another country over social media, Google Translate has undoubtedly enhanced the way we use the internet in our personal lives. It’s portable and the app doesn’t even require an internet connection, making it an excellent travel companion not just for ordering food or asking for directions, but it could prove to be crucial in an emergency if you’re in another country.
But is it advisable to use Google Translate in your professional life? In part one, we looked at what Google Translate can do, but now let’s explore its limitations so we can decide when to rely on it – and when not to.
Using Google Translate at work
Speed is one of Google Translate’s greatest strengths – apart from being free! This makes it great for finding out which foreign content is useful, like sorting through e-mails in a foreign language or kicking off a research project. While the accuracy of Google Translate is improving, it’s not 100% accurate so remember to be sceptical. With research especially, the Google Translate database isn’t specialised in all areas and can’t be relied on for expert knowledge. It might be a good way of judging what you’d like to get professionally translated, though.
Taking a gamble on the accuracy is one reason you may not wish to leave legal or technical texts to Google Translate. Something else to consider is whether your document is confidential. Google’s Terms of Service state that it (and its partners) can use your data worldwide, including text submitted for translation. Although it’s unlikely your text will be used, it’s always worth bearing in mind that, once you hit “Translate”, your text belongs to Google.
There is cause to be just as cautious when it comes to generating foreign-language content using Google Translate as when you’re translating it into English. Given its propensity to create clunky, unnatural-sounding text, websites that use Google translated marketing content can come across as lazy and unprofessional. Human translators are usually native speakers and they know how to make a text sound polished and how to adapt it for the target market (see our blog on localisation).
Surprisingly, translated content can also affect a website’s search engine ranking. Since content translated by Google Translate is technically computer-generated, Google can recognise it as spam, pushing it further down in search result lists.
Something else that baffles Google Translate is the formality of language. Unlike English, many languages distinguish between a formal ‘you’ and an informal ‘you’ and, along with thousands of British school children currently wrapping their heads around their ‘vous’s and ‘tu’s, Google Translate has a hard time working out which one is which. Bear this in mind if you’re considering using Google Translate to write to a customer or business contact as your e-mail might not create the desired impression…
How can you use Google Translate responsibly to generate content?
- Judge the situation. If being misunderstood or coming across as informal/unprofessional could have serious consequences, go to a professional.
- Keep the text simple. This includes correct spelling and grammar, so that Google Translate can process it more easily and the translation is more likely to be accurate.
- Avoid slang and idioms. Google Translate might translate these expressions literally or use an offensive slang term in the target language.
- Simplify technical language and acronyms. There’s no guarantee Google Translate will have come across the specific technical language you wish to use, so keep it to a minimum.
Hopefully, you now know how and when to use Google Translate – both at home and in the office! And for those times when Google Translate just won’t do, let AST manage your translations, and rest easy in the knowledge that your overseas audiences will receive the message you wanted to send.