Google Docs Fails Translation Test

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Google has long touted its machine translation services as a boon to businesses, but how well do they measure up? To find out, PCWorld writer Tom Bradley recently put the translation feature in Google Docs to the test, translating content to and from English and other languages.

Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the translations provided by Google Translate left something to be desired. For example, Mr. Bradley used Google Docs to translate some text into French and sent it to a French speaking acquaintance. The acquaintance responded, “Some sentences were perfect, but some were almost impossible to understand. 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.”

Obviously, if you’re trying to run a business with international clients, “not good enough to use in a professional setting” isn’t exactly what you’re going for. Unfortunately, the English to French translation was the translation task that Google performed the best. It was all downhill from there…here’s the response Mr. Bradley received after translating text from English to Hebrew: “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”).” Other languages tested, including Arabic and Spanish, fared no better.

Oddly enough, the translation services that Google provides for Google Docs appear to be substandard even when compared with translations from the Google Translate website. For example, the Google Translate website was able to accurately translate a poem from Spanish to English after Google Docs proved unable to do so. There are many reasons why businesses might choose to use Google Docs, but translation does not appear to be one of them!

The results of this test illustrate the biggest problem with machine translation: without a human to provide quality control, there’s no way to know whether the algorithms are choosing the right word or not. If you need to translate documents for your business, you must use a qualified translator in the process.