Tag Archives: lazy

multilingual laziness

I’ve come across a few sites lately – commercial and academic – that offer “translation” into several languages. I click on them out of curiosity. The link does not take me to a translation.

It takes me to Google Translate!

I have a few things to say about this:

  1. It’s unprofessional. It looks unprofessional too. That bar at the top of the site that says it’s being translated by Google? Kind of ruins the effect.
  2. If you’re just sending your site text to Google, why not offer all languages? I just visited a site that offers about 7; another (Rakuten) offers a handful. Google can handle more than 7 languages.
  3. It’s deceptive. Listing only a few languages makes it look like you’re offering actual human translations that you made or commissioned yourself. In fact, this is what I thought about all of the sites that I’ve visited recently that “offer” translations via Google. There’s no button that says “powered by Google Translate,” only a few flags that the user assumes lead to a real translation. They don’t. They lead to Google.
  4. Last but not least – it’s laughable. The translations aren’t so much inaccurate as hilarious. The only reason I can use the English Rakuten.jp is that I know Japanese and can guess at the original phrasing that produced such funny English. I have to double-check everything with the original Japanese text that it helpfully supplies a link to.*

This is the impression that your “serious” commercial or academic site is leaving: you’re naive about machine translation; you’re too cheap or unimaginative to get your own local translations; you’re out to deceive your users; and you’re an Engrish generator.

Is this the impression you want to leave?

Machine translation isn’t here yet. It may never be. Machine translation is hard. At the very least, get a native speaker of each language to read each end of the translation. You can identify the parts that need to be fixed simply by watching them making funny faces.

Google Translate may be okay in a pinch if you need to, for example, order something from a storefront or service that isn’t in your language. If you want to be taken seriously, find a human.

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* The reason I use Rakuten’s international English site is to narrow down the stores to ones that ship internationally. I wish I could use the Japanese site with this filtering.