In practice: How accurate is Google Translate?

Guildhawk | Mar 7, 2024 8:55:38 AM

Google Translate, a ubiquitous tool in today's globalised world, boasts an impressive feat – translating between 133 languages.

But with such a vast scope, the question arises: how accurate is Google Translate really? Can it be relied upon for accurate and nuanced translations in various contexts?

Let's delve into the data to uncover the truth.

Unveiling the accuracy of Google Translate

The answer, like many things, is nuanced. Studies reveal that Google Translates accuracy fluctuates significantly depending on the language pair. For commonly used languages like English and Spanish, the accuracy can be remarkably high.

A 2021 UCLA Medical Center study found that Google Translate preserved the overall meaning in 82.5% of English-Spanish translations.

However, the same study also found a wider accuracy range of 55% to 94% across all language pairs. This disparity highlights the challenges Google Translate faces with less common languages.

The availability of training data plays a crucial role – languages with a smaller digital footprint often have lower translation accuracy because there is a flood of bad machine translations that has serious impact on AI training models.

When to avoid using Google Translate

In certain contexts, relying on Google Translate may not be advisable due to concerns about accuracy, effectiveness, and privacy.

The following are scenarios where caution should be exercised:

  1. Medical and Legal Settings: Google Translate should be avoided in critical situations such as medical emergencies or legal proceedings where high accuracy and data privacy is paramount. Studies have shown discrepancies in translation accuracy in sensitive fields like healthcare and law. Moreover, you grant Google a licence to host, reproduce, distribute, communicate, and use content you enter.
  2. Police Work: Instances have emerged illustrating the potential for miscommunication and errors when using Google Translate in police investigations. Judges have noted its limitations, emphasising the need for human translators in law enforcement contexts. It also risks breaching data privacy due to the rights given Google when data is entered.
  3. Complex or Creative Translations: For nuanced or creative content, such as literature or marketing materials, relying solely on Google Translate may lead to inaccuracies or loss of meaning. Human translators are better equipped to capture subtleties and maintain the intended tone and style.
  4. Single Word Translations or Idiomatic Expressions: Google Translate struggles with nuances and context, especially when translating individual words or idiomatic expressions that lack direct equivalents in the target language. This can result in inaccurate or misleading translations.
  5. Non-verbal Communication: When non-verbal cues or nuances play a significant role in communication, such as sarcasm or irony, Google Translate may fail to accurately convey the intended message.
  6. Grammar and Syntax Variations: Variations in grammar rules or syntax between languages can pose challenges for Google Translate, particularly when dealing with complex grammatical structures or language features like the subjunctive mood.

It is essential to understand the limitations and potential risks associated with relying solely on machine translation, especially in contexts where precision and clarity are critical.

While Google Translate may suffice for simple messages with low accuracy expectations, it's crucial to prioritise accuracy and clarity, especially in contexts where misunderstandings could have significant consequences.

Why clean data is key to Future-Proofing your translations with AI technology

When it comes to translating and localising content, investing in expert human linguists with industry-specific credentials is a significant expense for businesses. However, these high-quality translations are ideal datasets for training machine learning models to power AI engines specific to your company, resulting in improved results.

Creating clean datasets is the perfect way to future-proof your translations because it gives you a return on investment, saving time and money overall. Why keep translating the same content when a private AI translation engine can do it for you?

Guildhawk has focused on future-proofing translated content since its establishment in 2001. Our partners appreciate receiving incredibly accurate translations but do not want to continue translating the same content each year.

That is why we began training machine learning models with high-quality translated data that professional linguists have rigorously vetted.

This approach powers our AI-translation GAI platform, and our partners now request that we build translation engines specific to their businesses to ensure quality and accuracy. Our training strategy for GAI relies solely on using data vetted by professional linguists.

Key takeaways

  • For popular languages, accuracy can be high (exceeding 90% in some cases), but less common languages often have lower accuracy due to a lack of training data.
  • Google Translate can sometimes struggle to grasp the nuances of language, leading to literal translations that miss the intended meaning.
  • The licence granted to Google by users allows the company to use the data, making it unsuitable for translating sensitive, personal data like legal and medical records.
  • Caution should be exercised when using Google Translate for complex or creative translations, single word translations or idiomatic expressions, non-verbal communication, and variations in grammar and syntax.
  • Accuracy and clarity should be prioritised, especially in contexts where misunderstandings could have significant consequences.