Newspaper Discovers Limits of Google Translate

In the United States, Spanish-speaking Latinos are a rapidly growing demographic. Naturally, some news organizations cater to them with Spanish-language editions, especially online.

However, according to Fox News, when the Hartford Courant decided to follow suit, they did not hire a translator, choosing instead to run all of their articles through Google Translate.

The results were about what you’d expect: embarrassing.

Former Hartford Courant columnist Bessy Reyna collected some of the most ridiculous examples of poor translation on her blog. Here are a couple of the juiciest nuggets of failure on display:

  • ”El hombre florero Over Head Smashed novia, policía dice” Literal translation: “The man flower vase Over Head Smashed Girlfriend, police said”
  • Este mujer Hartford acusado de apuñalar con el hombrepelador de patatas” which literally reads: “This woman Hartford Accused of stabbing the man with potato peeler.”

To address the criticism, the paper issued the following disclaimer:

“However, readers should be aware that due to limitations in the Google software some of the translations of the English headlines and articles don’t always translate accurately word-for-word into Spanish.”

Duh. On one level, it’s understandable that a local paper might not have the resources to devote to hiring a full-time Spanish translator. However, simply plugging all of their content into Google Translate appears to be counterproductive. According to Bessy Reyna, Latinos perceived the error-ridden translations as insulting, even offensive:

“Their reactions ranged from “This isn’t even Spanglish” to “Did you see the one today about Norwich? It’s to laugh and cry at the same time.” Others thought it was simply lack of respect and yet another way to humiliate the Latino community.”

The truth is, no matter what business you’re in, if you’re trying to communicate with customers in another language, there’s no substitute for a translator who knows both languages in and out. It’s impossible to put your best foot forward using Google Translate, or any other machine translation program for that matter!

Do you think newspapers should rely on Google Translate?

5 replies
  1. Bessy Reyna
    Bessy Reyna says:

    Thanks for including my article about Google translations used by the Courant. I am glad to report that after many complaints from journalists and others, the newspaper has replaced en “Espanol” with “Noticias.”
    a much smaller coverage of news, mostly taken from the web.

  2. Ines Swaney
    Ines Swaney says:

    A few years ago, a local TV station had a website which they claimed was multilingual. You just clicked on a particular flag… and the content was instantly translated into the particular language. So I tried with Spanish.

    Some of the original English-language content discussed “Ideas on what do when taking your kids to the beach”
    And the Spanish-language version turned “KIDS” into “BABY GOATS”
    Of course, that’s one of the correct meanings…


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] language How language change sneaks in Dictionaries are not democratic 100 Facts about Translation Limits of Google Translate A Translator’s Notebook Use your tools (or […]

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.