Yesterday the BBC tried a massive experiment – SuperPower Nation Day – using Google’s machine translation to bring multiple speakers together in one place. The idea was great, but, as the Global Lingo team found when we tried to join in, the system wasn’t quite up to the job in hand.

Though Marian did manage to get the first mention on the site – “We use human translators rather than machines, as we believe they are more reliable. But let’s give this a go.”

But did it work? Not really

Well it did kind of. As always with Machine Translation the results were pretty unreliable, and definitely not good enough for publication.

Here’s what the guys from Google said.

The translations were far from perfect in places, but Mr Trewhella added: “It’s about trying to get the message across… [users] are happy with 80-90% effectiveness.”

Here’s an example. Dowry Allowathb of Khartoum, Sudan, submitted a comment in Arabic on the topic:

“If you could say one thing to the world, what would it be?” which came out in English as: “That the budget of one war enough to satisfy the hungry Africa, not to mention the budget arm of one of the major powers.”

Not many of the examples got much better, click here to take a look for yourself.

Professional Translation

So the upshot is that yes Machine Translation can give you the gist of a text, but it better be a straight forward text. No jargon, no slang etc. That’s why we only ever use professional human translators and never ever machine translation. The results simply aren’t of a high enough quality for us and definitely not good enough for our clients.