Not too long ago, GT covered the news on Google Docs new translation tool. Google themselves announced this news on their official blog and also mentioned that the “translation isn’t perfect”, but thankfully Google also says they continue to work on improving their translations.
Having read this, I wonder… how good is the translation tool in Google Docs really? I’m fluent in a few languages, so I decided to put it this to the test.
First, I opened up a new Google Document, and while trying to figure out what I could possibly translate that might resemble a real world example, without bothering the GT readers with my boring personal documents, I decided to just copy and paste this post into a new Google Doc file and translate it from English to Dutch, Portuguese, and German. I could try other languages as well, but it wouldn’t be much use if I can’t be sure whether or not the translation worked.
After copying in pasting the paragraphs above into a new Google document, I clicked on “Tools” and “Translate Document”.
Then, I selected the language of my choice, in this case I started with Dutch.
A new window popped up with my quick ‘n easy Dutch translation in it. The first couple of sentences looked good, but soon enough I found some pretty serious, and hilarious, inconsistencies. For the Dutch speaking among you, here is my translation:
The translation is overall pretty good, much better than what you might get from putting entire paragraphs through Babble-fish, or other free translation tools. By all means, this does help if you are already pretty good in writing in a particular language, but do so slowly and want a quick and dirty start to your document. Writing it in English first, and then editing it after putting it through Google Docs translation will possibly save you time.
The experiment wasn’t done yet though, I tried two more languages: German and Portuguese. Surprisingly, Portuguese gave the best (and German the worst) translation.
The reason for this, as far as I can see it, is fairly straightforward. The translation tool in Google Docs does not know how to translate certain sayings or expressions used in one language to another. For example, saying “Having read this”, makes sense in English, but a word for word translation into Dutch and German makes no sense at all. But, surprisingly, in Portuguese it made perfect sense:
For those of you who also speak Portuguese, I’ve pasted a screenshot of my translation above.
Basically, the translation tool measures up quite well in the languages I tested it in. Google was right; it’s not perfect. I also doubt it ever will be as good as a human translator (let’s hope not, lots of people would be out of a job!). I’m definitely going to use it when I need to write an important email in a language where I still need to use a dictionary once in a while. I think it will make me write faster, by writing it in English first and editing it in the final target language after the automatic translation.
Have you tested it in any other languages? Did you have the same experiences I did? I’m really curious to get some comments on how this tool measures up in your target language, and how you’re using it!