Mon 2021-May-03

Reviewing Google Translate for These Blog Posts

Tagged: About / Obscurantism

A few weeks ago, we hooked up Google Translate for this blog. It’s time to review how well it’s been working… or not.

The Big Button

Google Translate Button

A few weeks ago, some of you noticed the big ol’ button in the upper right of each page. It’s supposed to translate the current page (and other pages in the blog when you click links) into the language of your choice. Really an absurd variety of languages, including some that are more or less unused, like Latin and Esperanto (though, sadly, not Lojban).

How (Not?) to Do It

Honestly, I just flailed around with Google, flopping randomly like a fish out of water until I found an example [1] I could reasonably imitate and put into my blog framework. There were enough specific examples (though little explanation!) of invoking the deep magic of Javascript hooks into Google Translate (now apparently Google Neural Machine Translation) that I could imitate by cargo cult programming.

No deep thought at all; more or less unencumbered by the thought process.

So I wasn’t too confident that it would work right, and if it did work right that it would work usefully.

Assessments by Native Speakers

So I did what any good scientist does in this situation: I asked my friends what they thought! (Friends who, of course, are native speakers of the languages in question.)

Here’s some of what native speakers of several other languages said:


  • :jp: Japanese: The Weekend Editrix is, of course, my first resort here (as with so many other things). Her judgement was that the Japanese translation quality ranged from “sort of ok” to “absolutely ridiculous nonsense”. It often chooses the wrong kanji, or translates something way too literally. So I’m reluctant to turn this loose on my Japanese in-laws, who will think I’m even more of an incoherent maniac than they already do.


  • :fr: French: After reading the April Fool’s post (dubious, since of all things, humor is often a danger to machine translation), a colleague reported more success than I thought achievable:

    Sur la base de quelques minutes de lecture de ton texte sur le Poisson d’Avril traduit en Français par le robot Google, je peux dire que cette traduction me semble assez raisonnable, certainement pas ridicule! (On the basis of a couple minutes of reading your post on April Fool’s Day translated into French by the Google robot, I can say that this translation looks to me reasonable enough, certainly not ridiculous!)


  • :india: Telugu: Yes, I’m happy to report that I have a friend who is a native speaker of Telugu! His judgement (though he tends to the optimistic and less critical side) is:

    Looks like the translation pretty good.


  • :kr: Korean: Somewhat like Telugu, a Korean friend reports that it is somewhat understandable, though often awkward:

    Google translation seems to do a decent job. Some words and phrases sound awkward a bit but I can see what you meant.


  • :it: Italian: Now, with Italian I think we got an honest assessment:

    Sadly the Italian is not so great. Maybe one can get the gist of it but there are many mistakes and sometimes it makes no sense.


  • :cn: Chinese: Here, the result was somewhat similar to Japanese, i.e., mixed and sort of the linguistic equivalent of slapstick humor:

    I found the Google robot sometimes works fine, sometimes pretty mechanical and sometimes just nonsense. It added more laugh reading your blog! And I was wondering if you put your blog through the translation robot back and forth between English and any other language for a number of cycles, you might be able to get a completely new blog! :-)


  • :ru: Russian: A very nice Russian colleague read several posts and confirmed: sometimes the translation is exactly right, sometimes unintelligible, and sometimes it just gives up (much like we as humans do!):

    The quality of Google translator is very dispersal. The “Well, that didn’t take long” was translated very well. It is hard to translate humor stuff – I hardly understand “April foolishness”. Sometimes it just gives up for no reason, for example, translating “Today the Weekend Editrix got shot”. Translation of “Today the Weekend Editrix got shot” is so-so.

    Still, it is nice to read something in Russian. I probably should try Google translate more often.


  • :greece: Greek: A Greek colleague who works in both English and French reports that the Greek translation is pretty ok, outside of idiom. Creatively, he uses Google Translate on his own text, to see if his French or English writing correctly translates back into Greek:

    The Greek translation is very decent. Of course there are the odd phrases that do not translate literally in every language (e.g. ‘Hey, it is also…’ goes ‘health, it is also…’ or ‘salut, it is also…’) or otherwise expected to fail (32nd of March), particularly when case or gender correspondence is needed. Most sentences, however, are perfectly translated and the articles make perfect sense. I think it is a good idea to keep the translator option in. Things improve in informatics with time anyway.

    If you are especially concerned about how your texts translate, I have noticed, this depends primarily on the quality of English input and on correct punctuation in particular. As I am never confident of anything I write, in any language, I use Google Translator with English on one side and French or Greek on the other. If the translation is good, the original is correct. If the original is correct, it is correctly translated in every language. There are, of course, exceptions like the above. But who cares?!


  • :romania: Romanian: A native speaker of Romanian confirmed that the Italian translation was not so good, but that the Romanian translation appeared to be ok most of the time, or at least vaguely intelligible:

    I took a look at the Romanian version - it is surprisingly good (ok, my expectations were vrey very low…).Most things make sense. However is a word by word translation - so any expression ends up being quite funny. Also, the translator doesn’t know April’s fool - and translated vaccine shot into gun shot .Some grammar glitches come out too - as it is to be expected as English doesn’t assign genders to every single object as Romanian does. So to sum up, the text makes sense (much better than expected, quite decent actually), the main points of the articles are there - but it’s quite obvious an automatic translation with a lot of the puns and wordplays being messed up (and sometimes shaky grammar).It seems to be working better to the more “analytical” articles (e.g. the AZ clinical trial one sounds much better than the Darwin awards one which ended up quite awkward) It’s interesting to see so clearly where human curation is still needed, as a lot of the messed up things are the cultural references and things that are probably best done by a human review.

The Weekend Conclusion

It’s fun, but… honestly, not that reliable.

If you already know enough English to understand the original, you can sort of get the gist of it from the machine-generated translation. Or maybe the other way ‘round: you could use the translation to prioritize which posts to read in English to get a full understanding.

Sometimes, if the original isn’t too idiomatic and is not meant to be humorous, the translations are pretty ok.

But if the original is meant to be humorous, or if you really need to have a reliable understanding of the details, the technology of GNMT hasn’t quite gotten there yet. And Italian got the worst reviews, for some reason.

Kind of amusing. Not for use in serious applications like the UN. But this blog aspires to be just “kind of amusing”, so I think I’ll keep it.

The Real Conclusion

Honestly, the most important lesson for me was: renewed respect for my friends and colleagues from all over the world. I’m proud to know and to have worked with all of you. Thanks for taking the time to offer your thoughts on an obscure little blog!

Notes & References

1: GeeksForGeeks, “How To Add Google Translate Button On Your Webpage?”, Geeks for Geeks tutorials, updated 2019-Aug-07.

Published Mon 2021-May-03

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