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Day 18: Google Docs Translations Don't Make Sense

My experience suggests that the translations are essentially useless in many cases.

One of the features touted by Google for Google Docs is the ability to easily translate documents into 53 different languages. For day 18 of 30 Days With...Google Docs I decided to put those translations to the test.

I don't do a lot of work internationally that would require me to have to translate my documents from English to some other language, or to take documents I receive in other languages and translate them into English. So, for the purposes of testing out the translation capabilities of Google Docs I enlisted my Twitter followers to help out.

I used some bilingual volunteers and sent them a document in English, as well as the Google Docs translation into whatever other language they speak and asked them to analyze the quality and usability of the translated document. Then, I asked some other volunteers to send me documents in another language so I could translate them into English using Google Docs.

I sent one volunteer a document in English and its translation in French. He replied to comment, "Some sentences were perfect, but some were almost impossible to understand," adding, "I'd give the translation 7 on a scale from 1 to 10. I would not use such a service in a professional setting, although it gives a good general idea of the text."

My other tests didn't go as well. French at least still uses the same alphabet and reads left to right like English, but when going from English to Hebrew Google Docs apparently butchered the translation.

My Hebrew-speaking volunteer said, "Sorry to say, but, in general I can describe the translation into Hebrew as "one big disaster". In 95 percent it is just unreadable (not only "hard to understand")."

The files that were sent to me in other languages didn't fare much better. Because I am not fluent in Arabic, and can only read a little Spanish, I can't tell you for sure what the original documents say. But, I am fluent in English, and I can tell you that the translations didn't make any sense at all.

The Arabic presentation translated into a loose, chaotic collection of words in English. Overall, I think I can make an educated guess at the topic of the presentation based on the general context of the words, but the resulting translation didn't really express any coherent thoughts.

The document I was sent in Spanish appears to be a poem called "Before". When I open the Spanish version in Google Docs, I can see the nicely formatted stanzas, but when I translate it into English I get a big, run-on paragraph with poor punctuation.

Here is an example. The first stanza in Spanish is:

Antes tus labios me besabanlentamente saboreaba tus besosesos labios tan rojos,tan suaves, tan delicados como una rosa

Pulling just the first stanza out of the chaos, what Google Docs translates it to is:

"I kissed your lips before slowly sipping your kiss those lips so red, so soft, as delicate as a rose"

The ironic part, though, is that Google actually has the technology to accurately translate it. When I take that same stanza and plug it into translate.google.com, the results are:

Before I kissed your lipsslowly savoring your kissesthose lips so red,So soft, so delicate as a rose

Suffice it to say, I wouldn't blindly trust any translation done by Google Docs. Obviously, the translations feature in Google Docs needs some work, and Google could start by making it at least as good as the translations done on the translate.google.com site.

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