Came across this lovely example of google translate’s fine work via salon.com and eater.com today. Eater.com found some nice New York themed promotional material for the new line of cupcakes McDonald’s Germany is currently offering and simply stuck the text through google translate. Hilarity ensued. This is one of the more cogent examples:
Geheimtipp und Central Park? Ganz New York hängt hier rum. Mein Tipp: Holt euch einfach einen Erdbeer Cup-Cake, setzt euch auf irgendeine Bank und genießt eurem ganz persönlichen Central Park Moment.
Google Translate version via eater.com
“Tip and central park? Throughout New York hangs out here. My tip: Just get yourself a cup strawberry-cake, sit down at any bank and enjoy your very personal Central Park Moment.”
Google Translate version as of this afternoon
Kept secret and Central Park? Throughout New York hangs out here. My tip: Get a simple Holt Strawberry Cup Cake, sit on any bench and enjoy your very own Central Park moment.
The original google translate version sounded odd and mistranslated some important terms. For example ‘Ganz New York’ should clearly be ‘All New York’ or ‘Everyone in New York’, an Erdbeer Cup-Cake is clearly a strawberry cupcake not a cup strawberry-cake, and while the word bank may appear to make sense here(the bank of a lake or river for example) this is not the intended meaning – the ‘Bank’ that you sit on in German is a bench in English, the ‘Bank’ where you keep your money is indeed bank in English, but the English ‘bank’ of the river is a German ‘Ufer’. So far, so muddled.
The newer google translation seems to have corrected a few mistakes, but created a few ones in the process. This time they have got the translation of ‘Bank’ right, but for some reason the program no longer recognises ‘Holt’ as the German imperative form of ‘holen'(get), instead mistaking it for a proper noun and including it in the English version. The translation of ‘geheimtipp’ is also tweaked here – to ‘kept secret’ – not much better than ‘tip’ in the original. A much better solution overall would be something non-literal like ‘Want a New York insider tip? Try Central Park’ or ‘Hang like the New Yorkers – In Central Park’. But given that google translate is still struggling with simple literal translations like ‘Bank’ this is not something I would expect.
So, while google translate is improving all the time, and is not bad if you want a very broad idea of what is being said in a language you do not at all understand – I would not expect it to replace human translations any time soon. Most of the sentences I translate are considerably more complex and nuanced than those listed above, and non-literal translation is very often required if you want a text to ‘sing’ rather than plod along. I could be wrong here, but barring the creation of translation programs backed by the kind of artificial intelligence that would allow the machine to genuinely think like a human, those of us who write and interpret for a living are safe.