A good bargain is a steal

To google or not to google

This hilarious sign at an Indian airport is a prime example of just how badly things can turn out when you try to save money on translation. If you are as unlucky as this airport, someone takes a picture, shares it on Facebook and within just a couple of minutes a carefully built-up reputation can be destroyed, in this case worldwide.

A lot of companies still regard translation as a necessary evil. It has to be done, but it shouldn’t take up too much of their time and above all, the burden on the budget should be kept to the bare minimum.

Free translation tools like Google Translate seem to be the perfect solution for companies like this; texts in almost any language can be translated quickly, easily and at no expense into almost any other language. And anyone can do it; no skills required!

This sounds too good to be true. And unfortunately it is. Free translation tools have proved entirely unsuitable for translating texts that really matter.

Why? Because first and foremost, these tools don’t understand the context of the words to be translated. They pick a translation that might be technically correct, but totally wrong in the specific context of a translation. In a text about a call center,  for example, Google Translate translated the word ’overflow’ into one of the target languages as ‘flooding’. Not exactly the kind of problem you expect to come across in your call center!!

In another text, the expression ‘service pool’ (meaning a team of service assistants) was translated as ‘service swimming pool’. Sounds great if you are in the tourist industry, but a bit odd in the context of a software company.

Another good reason for not using free translation tools is that they can’t recognize associations that certain words or sentences might have for a native speaker. The sign at the Indian airport is a great example of a nonsensical translation that causes some hilarity; but some words that are perfectly harmless in one language can actually be abusive or offensive if translated literally into another.

I could go on for hours discussing the reasons why free translation tools can’t do the job, but I guess you get the point. Tools like Google Translate can be helpful if you want to get an overall impression of the contents of a text, if you’re looking for one or two words or if you want to translate a sentence or two for personal use. But you should never use them for communicating with the target groups of your company or organization. The financial savings you can make by using these tools instead of hiring a translation professional can never outweigh the potential damage they can cause.

So why not just SMILE?