Why language learners should be scared of Google Translate (Lingogo translation notes to the rescue!)

We like bringing up the fact that we use real living, breathing, professional translator, HUMANS for our main translations. And for good reason! You only have to search ‘Google Translate fails’ to see the horrific damages that occur when good and innocent language learners make the mistake of relying wholly on machine translations. Like this:

There are so many more. Take the dedicated chefs for the Norwegian Olympic Team on their recent trip to Pyongyang for example. They used Google Translate to order 1,500 eggs for their athletes' most important meal of the day. However, like any good (bad) translation story, something in the midst of the Norwegian to Korean processing went oh so wrong. The next day our poor chefs had very red faces indeed as the delivery guys unpacked literally truckloads of eggs. 15,000 to be exact. Dinner omelette anyone?

Language is a complicated beast. There are plenty of other examples of Google Translate failing especially when we take into account a little complication called context.

Let’s look at the English phrase ‘come on’. It can be translated by the Spanish word ‘venir’ like '¡Venga, tengo hambre y quiero helado!’. However, it could also be used as encouragement in which case we’d switch to ‘vamos’ like ‘¡Vamos Norwegian Olympians!’. Then again, we could be trying to say that something is coming along well. Here we’d use the word ‘avanzar’. On the other hand, it’s always possible we’re yelling at our new ‘Alexa’ home assistant to turn itself on ‘¡Encenderse!’. Maybe we’re being flirtatious and need to switch to ‘coquetear’. I could go on. You get what I mean. Meanwhile Google Translate is sweating bullets.

Context is really important and can totally change the meaning of the words we use. That’s why we’ve introduced translation notes to our ebooks. You’ll find them by tapping the ‘+’ signs that appear with translation pop ups we've judged as confusing, interesting, super subjective or colloquial. It’s a process that takes a heck of a lot of time and requires us picking through stories (that quite frankly we’ve now read about 56,000 times 😁) manually with love and dedication. This is probably the reason we’re the only company I’ve seen doing something like this… you know us - labour of lovers, little guys (actually girls) against the man, no.8 wire Kiwi DIYers and all that. 

Translation notes are like little life savers for Lingogo readers. Let's look into one from ‘The Camera Doesn’t Lie’ when Jup makes a very strange discovery after Edith’s 80th birthday party, panics, and calls Flynn for help. We used the English phrase ‘I really need to see you’. You might guess (and Google Translate tells us) that the translation for this sentence is ‘Necesito verte’. Our translators gave us the inside word that actually ‘Necesito verte’ in this context sounds like Jup is making a romantic proposal, which is NOT what we were after (at least not for this story 😉). Instead we use ‘Tienes que venir’ which of course means literally ‘You have to come’ but fits our intended meaning a lot better. We popped all this behind the scenes info into a handy wee translation note for your learning pleasure. And now you know - if you want to see someone to discuss business perhaps avoid using the phrase ‘Necessito verte’ or they may think you’re coming on to them! Awkward office situation avoided. Life saved. You’re welcome.

So remember team - don’t skip the translation notes! They’re packed with the kind of local knowledge that’s really handy when you’re learning another language. Of course you can still tap any single Spanish word on our pop ups to run it through Google Translate. It’s a feature that’s super helpful for building vocab but remember to be wary of the results. Think of the egg delivery, remember you don’t want to hit on your colleague, and consider yourselves warned!

We’re working through the books one by one at the moment to add MORE and MORE translation notes. If you find anything you’d like explained, or indeed if you find anything you can offer us an explanation on, please comment here or get in touch and we’ll add it to the list!

Happy practising everyone and thanks for your continued support,

Liz and Shelley.

Hannah CraigComment