We all have something we just wish people would stop asking us. For me as a career linguist it is, “What do you think of Google Translate?” This question usually comes from very sophisticated business people who have been highly successful making money. I want to say, “Are you kidding me? Is that a real question or are you out of your mind?” But I have to be polite and say, “Well we know that machine translation has continued to improve over the years, and while it can be used to get the general understanding of something, it shouldn’t be used to convey meaningful or legal text that would represent your company.”
Using Google Translate seems like a great option for the monolingual, budget-conscious business person. However, I had a client two weeks ago say, “I guess it is pretty good. I mean, I just asked my staff to vacuum a donkey, but it is OK.” Is that ok? Would it be OK if I “write good blog that sounds pretty nice but have a few grammar mistake?” I would be horrified if something like that were sent out via my email in my first language, knowing it doesn’t use proper language conventions. Yet, when we are faced with speaking to or conveying information to someone who works for us or someone we want to buy from us, we translate text that ends up in the target language just like what I just wrote. Why? Because Google can’t parse language and nuances that are derived from the human mind and emotion. Google can’t think. It can use algorithms to decide what text seems most appropriate and has been used in previous utterances on Google. But it can’t think. Let’s leave Google to confound us with the algorithms that cause companies to scratch and crawl their way to the top of the search engine via clever SEO tactics. The next time you see me there will be no need to ask me this question. You have my answer. So now you can ask, “Do you think that the morphological derivation of a word is important when trying to ensure positive constructs in marketing messages?” Now that’s a real question.
-Martin George, CEO