News – Risky Online Translation

Today’s Financial Times reviews the dangers of relying on machine or online translation rather than a professional translator. The complexity of natural language is not particularly well suited to the limited power of the machinery available, which prefers binary to more complex constructions. Automated translation can give you the gist of a document, but at the risk of significant errors or loss of sense. Hand-held devices are available for around £150, although these serve primarily as digital dictionaries. More-advanced online translation tools can handle phrases as well as words, but still struggle with sentences let alone paragraphs or pages. The article notes the case of the Israeli journalists who fell victim to poor online translation last year. In The Netherlands for an interview with the Dutch foreign minister, they were asked to submit their questions in advance in English. They did this using an online translation site, and what the FT calls the ‘resulting nonsense’ came close to sparking an international incident and the visit was cancelled. Another example cited is that of the British stationery company, which tried to launch a non-leaking fountain pen in Spain with the slogan ‘it won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you’. A machine translation assumed the Spanish word ‘embarazar’ meant embarrassed; in fact, it means pregnant. Global Lingo only ever uses qualified, certified and experienced professional translators.