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How good is Google Translate, particularly for Italian?

I've been making reservations online in what I hope is passable Italian, with a lot of help from Google Translate. It does seem to be working, in that I'm making myself understood, but I'm wondering whether it's coming out distressingly un-idiomatic. It's really interesting to switch the English and Italian to see how the English comes out differently sometimes, which I hope is a good sign, but I'm not sure. Are there any speakers of fluent Italian and English out there who would care to weigh in? Any tips on writing the English to help the Italian come out better?

Posted by
51 posts

I used google translate to ask whether there was an iron available in the Florence hotel. Translated it said "do you have a steam engine in the room?" Hotel owner thought that it was hugely funny.

Posted by
181 posts

I use it for trip prep to France. I use simple sentences with care on the words I use. When I get the French translation I feed it back thru to see how it comes thru in English. That has gotten much better over the years.

I just sent an email to a French couple that we have become friends with. I speak no French and he speaks basic English but admits no English. After each English sentence I add the google translation. I was explaining why we had to cancel our trip and was concerned that he might not understand. He understood perfectly. At least part of that was google translate.

No complex words, sentences or paragraphs. Keep it simple and always do the reverse translation and you will be fine.

Posted by
6412 posts

No matter what language, if you want correct grammar you have to use a English Italian dictionary. Google Translate is not accurate when it comes to idioms. There is no short cut.

This is one of the best ones
http://www.wordreference.com/

Or just use English and they will sort it out

Posted by
613 posts

My husband used Google Translate at a restaurant in Rome (he spoke the words from the translation). He asked the waiter how he did in Italian and the waiter said he sounded like Siri.

Sandy

Posted by
8889 posts

My experience is with German, and not good.
It usually gets the correct meaning, but "usually" can include complete disasters sometimes. And what is produced is not idiomatic, it has very strange phraseology, but you can usually guess what it means.

  • Keep your sentences short and simple. No sub-clauses.
  • Makes sure all words are spelled correctly. Unlike a human being it can't guess what you mean. For example: "John spligged the paper". Even if you don't know what "spligged" is, it is obviously a verb, it is something he did to the paper. Automatic translators assume everything not in their dictionary is a proper noun (name of something), so you end up with "John Spligged is a paper"
  • Avoid words with more than one meaning in English.
  • Make sure your grammar is correct.
  • Do not break sentences across lines. It will think they are two sentences, and translate each half independently.
  • Avoid all colloquialisms.
  • Avoid negatives. It gets very confused with double-negatives. For example "I am not unwilling . . ." can come out as "I am not willing", just use the simple form "I am willing"
Posted by
91 posts

Try also using Bing/Microsoft Translator (green icon) for comparison. Sometimes I find I like this better.

I like the audio feature on this translator better than Google. Each time you tap it, the audio pronounces slower.

Also, in using Google, I also have gotten nonsense results -- sometimes.

Posted by
5704 posts

When a non English speaking Chinese child arrived at a friend’s school class, she used it to communicate with him, played the audio. It was very helpful and she used it until the child quickly picked up English.

Posted by
2290 posts

It works better if your English is very simple. No clauses, short sentences, no idioms or non-standard English words. It gets stuck on more complex phrases sometimes.

So - not “we will be arriving after our train gets in somewhere around 4-5 so thrilled to come to your awesome hotel!”

Yes - “we are taking train x to Rome. It arrives at 16:30. We will come to the hotel after that. We are very happy to stay at Hotel XYZ”.

In my experience it’s a bit stilted but correct and understandable.

Posted by
214 posts

I speak some Italian, but when sending emails often use Google Translate to see if what I planned to say was really what I intended. And I sometimes try to check by putting the English version in to see what comes up in Italian. The differences are interesting, and while sometimes the Italian version of my English has improvements, I often don't take the suggestions because what I've learned seems to point to something different.

But it does help, and is more useful for someone with even a little knowledge of the language in question. And if used by someone with no knowledge of the language, it's better than nothing. Definitely agree that simple language and short phrases are the way to go.

Posted by
2518 posts

I have found that avoiding idioms and keeping it simple (think a first grade reading primer) provides adequate translations. I have used it when inquiring about and making agriturismo reservations in Sardinia. I used it to translate my responses and also included my original English text. Using the camera with it allowed me to decipher the in-room information that was posted by one of them.

My first use was when I left my iPhone’s charging cord at the hotel in Evora, Portugal. I was in Castel Branco, 200 km away, when I discovered this and that I was precariously low on battery. I couldn’t find a phone store. I was in a supermarket parking lot and approached a lady returning to her car. I used it to ask where I could locate a store and used the phone to translate both sides of the conversation. 10 minutes later, I found the shopping mall with 3 electronics stores and a new cord.

Not perfect but essential if you don’t speak the language. I don’t know how it would work in the UK. 😏

Posted by
1260 posts

Thanks to everyone for all the suggestions and anecdotes. I guess what I'm finding interesting about Google Translate is that it seems to be trying to turn my boring, straightforward English into idiomatic Italian; I'm just not sure how good a job it's doing. I really should take some classes in conversational Italian.

Posted by
2811 posts

I used google translate to ask whether there was an iron available in the Florence hotel. Translated it said "do you have a steam engine in the room?" Hotel owner thought that it was hugely funny.

And, did they have a steam engine?

I occasionally use Google Translate for French, mostly when I'm not sure if my French email is correct, or if I need to complete a sentence that I can't complete in French. I find it moderately useful.

Posted by
30958 posts

ln,

I've tested Google Translate a number of times with native Italian, French and German speakers, and the results have been somewhat "mixed". The usual opinion is that the translator is not perfect but gets the meaning across most of the time, but sometimes it's completely incorrect.

I had an opportunity to test the Italian version for a solid week on my last trip. I was in an "immersion" situation where not much English was spoken, and the results on that occasion were also as mentioned above. One of the people I conversed with every day was a teacher who spoke no English, but with my limited Italian and both of us using Google Translate, we managed to communicate. She was really good about correcting my grammar, which I appreciated.

The translator app's are getting better all the time, but they're not yet at the level of functionality of the Star Trek Universal Translator. They're fine for simple phrases (ie: good morning, how are you) but you'll have to be vigilant to avoid contractions and slang. One other point to mention is that you may need a data connection if you don't have access to Wi-Fi.

If available in your area, taking a basic Italian course would be a great idea.

Posted by
342 posts

One other point to mention is that you may need a data connection if you don't have access to Wi-Fi.

On my Android phone, I downloaded Spanish, French and Portuguese for Google translate so I will not need an Internet connection to get translations. I did this for Greek last year and it worked great.

Posted by
1260 posts

Actually, I'm not planning to use Google Translate or any other Internet translator while actually in Italy - I'm just using it now for emailing, and also for coming up with the Italian for things I might want to say when there. So, I'm hoping that it's helping me learn a bit more Italian, but am having doubts about how accurate it is.

Posted by
9419 posts

Inbsig,
Some of the issues I have encountered with Google Translate are word order. Not a killer but makes for odd sounding sentences. Also verb tenses and conjugations may be sketchy, The translator cannot tell singular “you” from plural “you,” for example, nor formal “you” from informal. If you have some knowledge of Italian that you can apply to the translator’s recommmedations, you can sort it out pretty well.

Posted by
142 posts

Google translate cam in very handle while we were in Sicily back in April. We were part of a Rick Steves tour and my husband had a medical emergency while we out walking. Our guide was so good about summoning an ambulance and getting us to an emergency room. Once the guide left to continue the walking tour and we were on our way in Ana ambulance, the paramedics used Google translate to ask questions so he could receive the best care. I now recommend that traveling friends have Google translate in the event of an emergency. By the way, his medical care was great and no charge!

Posted by
179 posts

I’ve found I get by with a handful of tourist phrases.

The only thing I want to learn for my trip next month are the words for come and bowl, and the various colors. Purely to help me in the gelateria.

Posted by
1260 posts

Thanks, Laurel, that's kind of what I suspected. Wow, Lynda, I'm glad it all worked out! And Ryan, the trouble I've had at gelato places is that although I can and want to order in Italian, often the attendants insist on English (or whichever native language the customer speaks). I really enjoyed visiting a Grom in Venice, partly because I was allowed to attempt Italian.

Posted by
37 posts

Generally, Google Translate could work well with simple phrases. Just avoid inputting long and complex sentences.