Having worked for BLS for over ten years it has been very interesting to witness changes in the language industry, especially the development of translation technology. You are probably familiar with the tool called ‘Google Translate’. Installed on your PC, it offers a purely machine-based translation. Is it a good alternative to a human, intelligent, inquisitive, trained and professional translator? This article will, I hope, clearly illustrate that it is not.
I am a translator, I use English every day both at work and at home and I am also a French national. Every day my colleagues and I endeavour to show our customers the merit and importance of having a document professionally translated by native speakers. They might support their work with software such as Trados or Déjà Vu, a large translation memory which stores all their past work, but they certainly make the decisions about which words to use and which questions to ask if they need clarification.
That’s at work, however. At home, I usually don’t have this battle on my hands, even with my British partner. Or so I thought… One day, I was checking my French bank account online, on my home computer. Used to clicking on buttons such as ‘Mot de passe’, ‘Besoin d’aide’ and ‘Valider’ on the main web pages, I was suddenly presented with a mixture of text in French and bad English. Just to give you a few examples of what I read: ‘the boost you need for back to school for your children’, ‘make sure in a few clicks’, ‘Fan Online Banking’, ‘Besoin Help’, ‘Annuler/Validate’. This was all confusing and it took me a few seconds to understand what was going on and get my page back to a clear and understandable French text. Microsoft Windows had sneakily installed Google Translate on my PC!
Did I need the translation into my own mother tongue? No.
Was it of good quality? Absolutely not.
Was it helpful, from an English-speaking point of view? Definitely not.
Dare I say I had a good laugh? Meagre comfort… The irony here obviously comes from the fact that I am French and didn’t require any assistance to understand my own language. I use ‘assistance’ ironically here as I doubt any English-native user would have benefited whatsoever given the abysmal quality of the English translation. As for my ability to actually make any on-line bank transaction based on the ‘English’ text, had I been a monolingual British person, I would have been very nervous indeed…
At BLS we always have quality in mind. We warn our customers, and will continue to do so, against the dangers and pitfalls of using Google Translate for professional purposes. Needless to say I switched off Google Translate on my home PC. I hope it won’t find its way back into my system…