Google Translate is the number one free translation tool on the web. It can translate text from almost any language in the world into almost any other language. And it does so in a flash.
As if that weren’t enough, Google Translate does it for free. It even offers a tool that you can incorporate into your website to automatically translate the pages into the language of your choice.
What’s not to love?
Well, sadly, the translations. Generated by a machine, they represent the equivalent of looking up every word in a dictionary and then creating a sentence from these words.
It is not surprising that the output rarely reads like a correct sentence – there are often issues with the flow of the text; sometimes the translations make no sense at all.
Here’s an example
This sample was taken from a genuine German hotel website. As you can see, Google Translate has got the meaning of the source text across, but the translation reads like something that has been automatically generated by a machine. Funny that.
Google Translate is a very, very clever tool but it remains a machine and that is precisely where the problem lies: language is a beautifully complex thing. Sentences are things to be crafted, not automatically generated based on the sum of their parts.
Taking the last sentence from the example: whereas Google Translate has gone almost word for word with “We are looking forward to welcome you in our house!”, a translator would almost certainly have opted for the idiomatic phrase “We look forward to welcoming you to our hotel!”
The difference is clear: Google Translate’s version may get the meaning across (although I daresay the hotel owners are unlikely to want guests turning up at their actual house!) to a native speaker, it reads like a bizarre attempt at English.
What this means for you and your business
Consider you own this hotel. You have spent many days writing the German copy for your website and working with a web developer to get your site exactly as you want it. After all, your website is your shop window and a shop window that can be viewed in all corners of the globe. Just think of all the customers you can reach out to with your website.
English is the global language, so naturally you want to create an English version of your website too. Google Translate can provide you with this service, free of charge. Do you take it?
If you value your website as a marketing tool, as a way to project a certain image on to your potential customers, then the answer has to be “no”.
Automated translations stand out because they are often wrong. They use the wrong words, in the wrong places and misunderstand idioms and key phrases.
Incorporating automated translations onto your website or into your marketing materials means at best running the risk of misunderstandings and mistranslations, and at worst giving the impression that you are an amateur business.
Global customers; global competition
Persuading someone to buy your product or service means convincing the potential customer that you are the best company or organisation to fulfil their want or need.
The internet may mean that you can reach millions of potential customers; but it also means that these potential customers can reach dozens, hundreds or even thousands of your direct competitors. And if your competitors are serious, they will also be professional.
Free translations are a false economy
Saving a few hundred pounds on translation by using Google Translate is a fool’s game. You will end up with second-rate copy that will struggle to convince the global consumer. If it is worth having an English version of your website and marketing materials at all; it is worth having an English version that makes sense.
Google Translate is a great tool and one that represents quite amazing progress in the world of automated translation. But it is simply not capable of creating correct written English. Businesses use it at their own peril.