So, why should you hire a real translator, a person trained in translating texts, instead of using Google Translate? I have covered this in my first blog post, but that was in Dutch, so now I’m going to give you an overview in English of the most important reasons for having a translator do a human’s job instead of having a machine fumble through the finer nuances of life.
Firstly, though, I’m going to say something that might raise some eyebrows. Translators use Google Translate, but with caution and always with a large grain of salt, a cubic meter of salt, actually. The things translators use Google Translate for, are single words or word clusters of two or three words, but never whole sentences or culturally specific things (realia). Google Translate is a machine that consists of translations that were put in by other human beings who are mostly not language professionals. It can be quite handy for a translator to get the gist of the meaning of a word they aren’t familiar with and then feed Google’s translation into Google to see what kind of context might pop up. However, even in these kinds of situations it’s never clear how much of the gist the translator has caught. If the translation requires any higher level of sophistication, e.g. persuading someone to buy your product, the translator will need more than just a machine.
The first pitfall of Google Translate is that it struggles with words or expressions that have more than one meaning. Let’s give a simple example. The word ‘bank’ in Dutch has two different meanings. One is a couch, a rather large one, not a seat or a chair, but a two-seater at the least and the other is the monetary institution called bank in English. Google Translate gives different translations, bank and bench and settee, but they’re not exactly what in the Netherlands is meant by ‘bank’. This is a simple example, but there are numerous words and expressions that when translated poorly can have a laughable effect in your professional text.
The second pitfall of machine translation is that it can’t account for connotations in local languages. A text might describe a conversation between two people who know each other and are familiar, but a machine can’t differentiate between using formal or informal language. The tone of voice has to be chosen by the translator.
Thirdly, there are ‘realia’, which I covered extensively in this blog post (Dutch). These are phrases or words that have a specific meaning relative to their culture. ‘Randstad’ in Dutch means the three, sometimes four, biggest Dutch cities in the north/mid-west of the Netherlands. Machine translations will often translate these culturally specific words literally whereas their meaning rarely ever can be translated literally. Again, the translator needs to decide what kind of translation is best within the context of the source text.
And lastly, another important thing is that everything you feed through Google is recorded and kept somewhere to be viewed and used by everyone on the planet. As a translator I’m bound by confidentiality agreements and will not just disclose personal or professional information.
I’d say these are enough reasons to hire a professional translator. You get what you pay for!