Google’s Translate Gadget

I’ve just discovered Google’s Translate Gadget, a simple line of code which allows visitors to a Website to have it translated into various languages.
I’ve checked out Moortown Primary School’s website, which uses it, and what is impressive is that the appearance of the site stays exactly the same. The only thing that changes is the language in which the copy is written.
To me, this has advantages and inconvenients: on the one hand, the site keeps its visual identity and almost anyone visiting it can have access to the information it contains, which is great. The big downside is that the French translation is very, very poor. Grammatical errors, bad translations, nonsensical sentences abound. The reader gets the gist of the message, but only after spending a painful moment trying to decode it. It is very clear that the translation is provided automatically by Google, but I wonder whether the reader might not forget that fact during the course of her browsing and in the end, have a poor image of a very badly-written site. Could this impact negatively on a brand/company’s image? Might the parents of a potential student be put-off by a site full of grammatical mistakes? After all, this is the place where their child will learn to read and write. Do its pros outweigh its cons?
Why not give it a go and tell me what you think?

By | 2016-10-18T15:49:23+00:00 October 17th, 2008|Culture|14 Comments

About the Author:

I am Céline Graciet, a freelance English to French translator. Since 2003 I’ve been writing on all sorts of areas linked to translation and the life of a translator.


  1. Neij October 17, 2008 at 12:17 pm

    As fewer and fewer Brits are learning languages, it follows that ever smaller numbers will be in a position to tell whether a machine translation makes sense or not. It must be an attractive proposition simply to click a button and have your website come out in another language (and of course the results clearly LOOK French [or German, or whatever] to someone who doesn’t know that language, or doesn’t know it very well).
    What worries me is the increasing numbers of businesses and organisations which don’t seem to realise that a machine translation is unsuitable as a published document. I don’t read Chinese, and wouldn’t even be able to begin to decipher the script, so Google Translate is useful for me when I want to get the gist of a website written in Chinese. (Google also did a remarkably good job of translating the homepage of the website of Spanish newspaper El País when I tried it recently.)
    But it’s one thing to get the gist of a text (and even then there is no guarantee that the translation is not misleading the reader); it’s quite another to use a machine translation as any form of publication.

  2. céline October 17, 2008 at 12:27 pm

    What also worries me is that people will just get used to reading rubbish, which might lead to a higher level of tolerance for badly-written copy. This can only lead to the impoverishment of all languages.

  3. Tony October 17, 2008 at 12:28 pm

    Yes indeed, the translations are absolutely rotten, as one would expect. But in the case of what they delightfully call “D’autres hommes de fleur” this is not really an inconvenient (or even an inconvenience: sorry, Céline), because my blog is not intended to sell anything, provide useful information or educate anyone, consisting, as it mostly does, of banal facetiousness or sometimes facetious banalities. So Google translations of it, silly as they are, may well be an improvement on the original.
    I found it best to tuck their link away at the bottom of the sidebar since otherwise it contributes towards the clutter.

  4. céline October 17, 2008 at 12:33 pm

    Good point Tony, for personal websites the "bad publicity" aspect isn’t a concern, but what about its contribution to the dumbing-down of language?

  5. Tony October 17, 2008 at 12:35 pm

    P.S I note your comment about getting people used to reading rubbish, but my readers are well inured to this so won’t come to any harm.

  6. céline October 17, 2008 at 12:36 pm

    He he. I like your style Tony.

  7. Tony October 17, 2008 at 12:47 pm

    I don’t believe that our language is declining in the way you mean; increasing use of the demotic is inevitable and on the whole salutary. What we should resist is the introduction into British English of such unattractive Americanisms as “dumbing down”.

  8. Tony October 17, 2008 at 12:48 pm

    Or “Brits”, for that matter.

  9. céline October 17, 2008 at 12:54 pm

    I had to look up "demotic" and I don’t understand what everyday language has to do with poor translation. I think a text full of grammatical mistakes is a lot more offensive than one containing the odd Americanism.

  10. Jane October 17, 2008 at 3:39 pm

    The translations are horrible, but you do get the gist of what the author is trying to say. I think the translation tool would be quite useful for someone learning a new language; it helps underscore the importance of idiomatic phrases, among other things.

  11. céline October 17, 2008 at 3:50 pm

    I shudder at the thought of a generation of language learners sounding like Google Translate.

  12. James Ward October 18, 2008 at 12:06 pm

    Any organisation that is considering using this service should think carefully about the impact it will have on their reputaion and brand image. A large organisation, with sufficient funds to pay for professional translation that is targeting their products or services to a foreign market would be very foolish to use any kind of machine translation in preference to a human.
    But for smaller organisations, like schools and individuals, it could be a useful option to offer their visitors. I think most users will recognise the limitations of the service.
    Even Google admits to the shortcomings of its current service:
    “Even today’s most sophisticated software, however, doesn’t approach the fluency of a native speaker or possess the skill of a professional translator.”
    However, what I find more alarming is that they plan, in time, to be as good as a human at translation.
    They hope to achieve this because their translation model is different:
    “…we feed the computer billions of words of text, both monolingual text in the target language, and aligned text consisting of examples of human translations between the languages. We then apply statistical learning techniques to build a translation model. We’ve achieved very good results in research evaluations.”
    They invite users to improve their model:
    “Also, in order to improve quality, we need large amounts of bilingual text. If you have large amounts of bilingual or multilingual texts you’d like to contribute, please let us know.”
    I’m a big fan of Google and use lots of their services every day. But do I want them to take control of our language…? Probably not.

  13. Judy Jenner October 21, 2008 at 6:54 am

    While I think it is a worthwhile tool to get the basic idea of a website in a foreign language, it is certainly not a translation tool, and really doesn’t deserve the term “translation”. Last time I checked, it takes a human to get conjugations, declinations, syntax, context, idioms, etc. right. I think “Google Approximate Meaning Gadget” would be a more appropriate term.
    I do worry about how this will affect us language professionals. Many clients already think they can translate documents themselves, and now with Google Translate, maybe they will run it through that and view it as a professional translation. I think we have to add yet another line to our client-education manual: Google Translate is just for fun, but not to be taken seriously and is an abysmal substitute for a real translator.

  14. James Ward October 22, 2008 at 9:18 am

    Well, seems it isn’t even very good as n “Approximate Meaning Gadget”. Try “Gives the Opposite Meaning Gadget” instead…

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