Featured Images - Laptop with Google search visible. Using Google Translator

Why You Should Never Use the Google Translator by Anna Mocikat

Today I welcome author Anna Mocikat onto my blog, who is discusses just why you shouldn’t use Google Translator if you want to include any other language within your novel.

Big thanks to Anna for being today’s guest poster, please make sure to check out her links and details at the end of this post. 

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Like never ever ever!

Bad translations, incorrect sign

I still remember the day very well when the Google translator got introduced for the first time. Everybody was so excited! The press was celebrating it and enthusiastically cheering that soon professional translators would become obsolete.

Greedy publishers were rubbing their hands in anticipation, hoping they would soon save tons of money they otherwise have to spend on expensive, professional translators.

After all, media and experts were assuring us, the software would quickly become so good and intelligent that the reader wouldn’t recognize the difference between a text translated by the AI and a human. Golden times were coming!

I was very skeptical from the beginning. Everybody who works with more than one language knows how difficult translations can be and that the devil hides in the details.

My cousin, who is a professional book translator from English and German into Polish just said: that’s a good one!

Translation Fails

Now, a couple of years later, no sane business insider would suggest that anymore – for a good reason. The internet is full of Google translator fails in which people all around the world trusted the seemingly omnipotent tech giant and ended up being a laughingstock.

Bad translations, incorrect sign

It soon turned out that languages, especially the way we speak them every day with each other, are way too complex to be translated by software. You now might think that this does only apply to really complicated languages which differ dramatically from English.

No way!

I am trilingual. My first language was Polish, then I learned German in early childhood when I moved to Germany and finally, I learned English well enough to be able to write my novels in it. I stumble over severe translation fails in between these three languages all the time.

The Google translator is bad, but the Facebook one is even worse. I live in the US but have many Facebook friends and family in Germany and Poland. Without that I ever asked for it, Facebook translates me their German and Polish posts into English.

As soon as it comes to figurative speech (and our languages are full of it!), the translator fails miserably. Sometimes the translation attempts are to the dead laughing. (Ladies and Gentlemen, here you have a simple example of a Google translator fail: I typed “zumtotlachen” into Google, which is German figurative speech meaning something like laughing yourself to death).

Sometimes IchlachemeinenArschaus. (I typed “laughing my ass off” into Google and that’s what came out. Total nonsense in German which would be translated into English asI mock my ass). Sometimes I don’t understand a single word.

These were just two quick examples showing what a miserable failure the almighty Google software is.

Google translator in books

Now, you will say. Ok, such fails only happen in Chinese restaurants or Russian grocery stores. Nope. They happen in bestselling novels.

Seriously.

And you won’t believe how often. Being a German native speaker, I read most of my books in English and in one of five cases if an author brings in a German character speaking German (They are mostly Nazis. Or bad guys of some sort.

They can try to save the world as much as they want, Germans always will remain the bad guys in literature and movies, that’s as sure as Newton’s law, lol.) the German is gibberish.

I wonder how that can happen. German isn’t such a difficult language, after all. The only possible answer is the author using Google translator and the editors being sloppy.

Still don’t believe me?

I’ve got an example for you. When I stumbled upon it, it made me spill my coffee laughing.

Schrauben Sie es, Mädchen!”

This is a quote from the first book of the “The Expanse” series – one of my all-time favorite Sci-Fi book series and shows. A huge bestseller, and I really admire the authors. And then this…

An evil German (of course!) character says this in the book. What the author wanted him to say is: Screw you, girl! What he actually says is something like “Use the screwdriver, girl!” (this is a loose translation since it’s figurative speech). The real translation of what the author wanted to say is too profane for me to write it here, but it should have been in the book.

Never ever ever EVER use Google translator

I know it’s tempting. We authors love having international characters in our books. And if we let them drop a line in their native language, we feel so sophisticated, and the characters get more depth and the story more realism.

Why not just type what I want to say into Google translator? After all, Google is your friend and knows everything, right?

If you want native-speaking readers to spill their coffee on your book while reading it, go ahead.

In my opinion, you have three options: either use a language you actually have learned and mastered well OR find a native speaker who will translate it for you, OR just let it be.

Trust me, Google translator fails are SchmerzenimArsch.

(If you wonder, yes, that was another translation fail. Used every day in English, total nonsense in German.)

Don’t be a fool in front of a mister (Trottelvor dem Herrn – expression in German which doesn’t exist in English and basically means total moron), never ever EVER use Google translator.

Bad translations, incorrect sign

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

About Anna

Photo of Author Anna MocikatAnna Mocikat was born in Warsaw, Poland, but spent most of her life in Germany where she attended film school, worked as a screenwriter and a game writer for several years.

Her “MUC” novels have been nominated for the most prestigious awards for Fantasy and Science-Fiction in Germany.

In 2016 Anna Mocikat moved to the USA where she continued her writing career in English.

Facebook   |   Goodreads   |   Website   |   Instagram   |   Twitter

Shadow City

Book cover of Shadow City by Anna MocikatLos Angeles is an apocalyptic wasteland. The few survivors of a horrific catastrophe live under the constant threat of radiation, mutated creatures, and worse… lurking in the shadows.

In the ruins of the deserted city, the scavengers Jean and Louis come across a nameless stranger and bring him to the only safe zone, once known as Hollywood.

What’s left of society is divided among different factions; mistrust, brute force, and anarchy rule every day’s life.

If the struggle for survival wasn’t bad enough, the nuclear disaster has shifted realities as we knew them and brought something into our world which threatens to exterminate the human race. Something so dark, that every living being is horrified of it. Something that feeds on suffering and violence.

But humans aren’t alone in this existential fight. Unexpected allies emerge from the shadows and in the final stand, the nameless stranger will decide humanities fate.

Buy the Book

 

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This post was written by a guest writer.  Please check out their details above.

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38 comments

  1. So very true. I think we’ve all come across hilarious translations from time to time. Especially in instructions.
    I love the eating carpets. Is that a problem in India? These all made me giggle, and I’ll remember next time I put on my basketball.

  2. LoL Never! 😀 I use it sometimes because I’m learning Italian and Korean, but it isn’t reliable due to sentence structure and words not being literal translations. For instance, some words in Spanish don’t have a literal translation in English, just words that are close enough. And vice versa. It can be useful in a pinch, but isn’t reliable for full sentences.

  3. Hi, Anna. Thank you for writing this. I have always wondered if this was a good idea or not. I do not speak multiple languages like you but I was always suspicious of this ‘toy’ for people like you. Now I know. 🙂

  4. Totally.
    Whenever I watch a movie that has subtitles in a different language, I cringe. I think it’s better than it used to be a couple of decades ago, but the subtitles don’t always match what is being said. And I assume those are done by actual translators. If humans cannot do it well, then how do you expect a machine to do that.
    And like you said, there’s a lot of indirect communication.

    1. Thanks for reading. That’s a good point, if they are done by translators and get it wrong, then a computer is certainly not going to do a better job

    2. I agree. Reading subtitles on a French film, a language I have a reasonable knowledge of, so many times either I or my husband say ‘He didn’t say that!’

  5. Google translator is not the best thing to depend on when you are trying to clarify what is being said in another language but it can be helpful at times. I visited Stuggart, Germany and wanted to go shopping. Google translator helped me communicate things I never would have been able to in order to navigate to the various destinations I had on my itinerary. I understand it not a tool to depend on if you wanted to become fluent but in this situation it was a much needed crutch in a foreign country.

    1. Thanks for reading. Yes, I think in situations like that, Google Translate can assist especially if you do not have anyone with you who speaks the language. But it should definitely not used as the definitive when writing a book and using foreign phrases or pieces of dialogue.

      Did you enjoy your time in Germany?

  6. I absolutely ALWAYS check with a native speaker before using any foreign language phrase!

    Doing subtitles for films was a real eye opener. Most Western European languages fared ok on Google, but outside of that, the corrections were prolific.

      1. I went through line by line in Malay once and then handed it to a native speaker to fix anything grammatically wrong. There was a lot!

  7. One of my favorite Google Translate fails is “Hecho en pavo” on a clothing tag. It means “Made in Turkey”… except turkey the animal.

    When I lived in Italy, a restaurant posted a sign in our hallway in English. The translation was so bad I took a picture of it. I always wondered “Why didn’t someone hire a person on 5rr to check it for them?”

    My dh thinks one day translators will be good enough… not likely. One day they may be able to translate most idioms, but there are still things that can’t be translated. The first book I read a Spanish translation of was Divergente. I wondered how they were going to translate the scene where Four asks if Tris’s tattoo is of crows. In the English version, she says “No, they’re ravens.” In the Spanish translation, since they’re both “cuervo” in Spanish, she says “Yes.”

    I do use Google translate (for languages I know a little). I just don’t use them as the final say, and I would never use it in a book without hiring someone to double-check it for me.

    1. lol maybe that item WAS made by a turkey, a very industrious bird.

      It is always shocking when you see signs and think, “seriously, you couldn’t have just got someone to check it?”

  8. Clyde Mandelin wrote a whole book on the subject. It’s called press start to translate: This is what happens when you let a computer translate a video game?.
    (What happens is antidotes that “Neutralize Germany” and lines like “The enema is saying that you should not wear a basketball!”)

  9. I’m English – well, Anglo-Chilean, but my Spanish is poor. Anyway, my debut novel had French and Quebecois characters so I dropped in a few ‘French’ phrases. I learnt some French which helped, as did living in Quebec for a few years. But I needed real people to check my attempts – my mother grew up speaking French and my sister plus her daughter went to school in Switzerland. My WIP is set in North Wales so although I use Google translator to add a place-holder phrase or two, I will always research the correct phrase elsewhere. My key beta reader will be a North Wales native as I recognised the complexity of the language – morphology was fascinating – when I lived there briefly.

    1. That’s always the best way, having a placeholder phrase that you can get checked by a native speaker or someone who have a high level of experience in a language. I think that’s especially important with dialogue, because Google Translate will often just (attempt) to translate the words exactly but conversational languages are different to exact word translation due to context and such.

  10. The only time the Google translator or the Facebook Translator should be used is for a good laugh. My wife is Portuguese and sometimes a relative sends a photo via Facebook. Most of the time the translation is so bad my wife breaks into hysterical laughter. We’ve been married 37 years and you’d think that I’d learn some Portuguese. But I can’t say a word of Portuguese. A friend of ours is from Afghanistan. The translations are so bad we have to phone him up and ask what he sent. One time he asked us to send a copy of the translation.

    It doesn’t matter. Google and Facebook translations are so close to being a joke it’s laughable.

    1. I get messages in different languages sometimes and when I speak to my multi-lingual friends for asssistance, it is shocking the difference they give compared to Google Translate or any of the other “built in translators” that a lot of shops and sites now have.

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