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Using translators for travel.....

Questions about using Google Translate and similar Apps seems to occur on the forum on a fairly regular basis. I recently came across a well written analysis on the subject and thought it may be of interest.

My experience has been that while these can often provide an approximate translation that "sort of" gets the idea across, they're completely wrong in some cases. This has been confirmed when I've asked native speakers of French, German and Italian. Translators seem to work best on short, simple sentences but not so well on longer sentences where context might be important.

For those who are interested, THIS ARTICLE provides a good analysis of the effectiveness and limitations of electronic translators. One caveat to mention, it's a long article.

Posted by
1369 posts

I haven't tried using a translator, in a travel context, to translate spoken language. I find Google Translate extremely useful for reading menus, museum descriptions and websites for sights and attractions.

Posted by
8487 posts

I use Google Translate to find the English meanings of items and for an occasional translation of a word or two into a different language.

I find, however, it is just necessary to make myself understood and not have a perfect, long sentence.

Recently, I was practicing my Italian with a native Italian speaker who speaks fluent English. I realized I had said "you want" when I wanted to say " I want". I pointed this out and she said "yes, but I understood what you meant".

No machine is going to be perfect.

On a different note, I have seen instruction manuals for Chinese made goods where a machine translated from Mandarin to English. They can be hysterical.

Posted by
9386 posts

Fascinating, Ken!

In my professional life, for several years I led a group of linguists and they taught me a great deal about the art of translating. It truly is an art although for most of us we need simply to seek to understand and be understood, as Frank pointed out.

We very occasionally used machine translators (actually a package that simultaneously used several sophisticated translation programs to produce multiple versions) to get the gist of material to see if it was worthy of translating thoroughly and professionally. The results ranged from plausible to hilarious to non-sensical; sometimes side by side results from 3 or 4 different programs were so different one wondered if they had each translated the same source material. The jobs of the professionals are quite secure.

Posted by
2275 posts

Google translate is very helpful for logistical things. Look up menu words, translate directions (does that word mean right or left?), find words to say to make phrases like “need medicine headache”. To get your point across and understand the response, probably with bad grammar. Don’t type in “sorry to bother you, my head feels like it was hit by a train, if possible could you kindly provide some aspirin” - that would lead to an incomprehensible mess! Instead use just the key words plus please, thank you.

I speak very basic Spanish and find google translate useful for words or phrases I don’t understand. So I can use it for fairly complex things. But I understand the context and the structure of the sentence, so can figure things out. In other languages I can’t and just do phrases

Posted by
5232 posts

I never travel without my portable German translator ... and he carries the bags, too! For other languages, Google Translate in camera mode is good enough for travel uses (combined with distant memories of college French and high school Spanish) -- and very useful in a Hungarian supermarket.

Side note -- consider the machine-generated speech-to-text subtitles on your local TV newscasts. Good for a lot of laughs!!

Posted by
5305 posts

Ken, thank you so much for sharing that article from the Atlantic. It was absolutely fascinating and so interesting to consider!!