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Company name: Communications McKelvey inc.

Resource person: Myles McKelvey

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January 15, 2014 - Advice and Strategy > Writing & Translation
Google Translate: Is Your Corporate Image Lost in Translation?

First, let me specify that the purpose of this article is not to trash the Google Translate (GT) tool, but rather to point out its appropriate and inappropriate uses.

If you have clients or colleagues who write to you in another language, it can be quite practical to use GT to grasp the gist of what they're saying. Similarly, you can use GT as you surf the net to get a general understanding of information presented in a foreign language. While travelling, you can use GT to communicate with locals. A less-than-perfect Google translation may even suffice for informal internal communication being sent out to cubicle monkeys. You get the picture: some translations really don't need to be perfect. So you don't need to use a professional translator all of the time.

That said, however, GT is definitely not the kind of tool you should use to market your products or services. The inevitable errors produced by GT will give your company an unprofessional image and will communicate that you really don't care about either your target audience or corporate branding.

Context is everything in translation. This is where GT fails miserably, because it takes human intelligence to understand the context and translate the message properly. Here's a straightforward sentence: “The weather forecast is for showers.” If you punch it into GT, you'll get “La prévision météo est douches.” The human translator would know that the word “showers” must be translated as “averses” in this context. If GT makes major errors when given such simple sentences, how do you think it fares with more complex sentences?

Furthermore, GT is unable to accurately translate slang or colloquial expressions. For example, if you type “It's raining cats and dogs” in GT, you'll get “Il pleut des chats et des chiens.” The correct translation should be either “Il pleut des cordes” or “Il pleut des clous.” Popular sayings and idioms are often used in advertising to capture the reader's attention, and GT will fail to properly translate these expressions the majority of the time.

GT is technology that was created by humans and is meant to be used by humans. It's not meant to replace humans. It's simply a tool. Although GT can be used for certain practical purposes, it's never appropriate to use GT to translate your websites, brochures or marketing material. Human translators—not machines—are the only ones you can trust to accurately and professionally translate the important messages you want to get across. After all, the quality of your translations speaks volumes about your customer service and corporate image!

Happy translation!

Myles McKelvey, Certified Translator
McKelvey Communications Inc.
Translation, Editing & Copywriting


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2 comments
Alan Kelly.  12-02-2014 3:34 p.m. HNE

During my first year of francisation* in Montreal, watching a Radio Canada video, the prof mentioned the dialect is referred to as international or Broadcast French.

With same class I was informed of the levels of French from the Royal or diplomatic to the vulgar or popular.

For this reason I am sure you agree materials in French needs to be in the vocabulary of those for whom they are intended.

Thank you for writing on agentsolo, Myles.

Alan

* does not translate to "Frenchify"

Jean Gagnon.  2-03-2015 4:52 p.m. HNE

I will play devil's advocate here.

I remember when we laughed at the idea that our telephone would understand what we say, or know where we are. 100 years ago we laughed at the promise of boxes with moving pictures in them. 100 years before, at the idea of being able to converse with a person in another town. And before that, you were better not mention earth revolving around the sun if your head was important to you.

There is a technology called Conceptual Speech Recognition that can analyze text and extract the concepts and how they interact. And it works, I have worked on it. Since concepts do not have a language and concept-phrases translation can be done both ways, one can imagine that the technology of context-sensitive translation by machines is just around the corner.

You are correct that GT today is absolutely context-ignorant and is unable of a coherent complex translation. That being said and given CSR, I would respond to someone who wants to start a career in translation the same thing as to someone who wants to start a career repairing TVs.

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