Google Translate Equals Risky Business…

by | May 8, 2014 | Translation Services



With the convenience of Google Translate readily available and for free, many people take advantage of what seems to be a great convenience.

However the lurking danger that Google has failed to adequately warn users about, is that it should NOT be used for anything that has importance or when accuracy is required and essential. Clearly it should not be used for any type of instructions or when you care about your documents, your clients, your image or the consequences of an error. Even post-editing of these documents can lose a vast amount of intended meaning.

As food for thought I give you an example: A few weeks ago we had a translation inquiry from a medical technology company, who sent us an instruction document for the use of one of their lifesaving medical devices.   They had translated it using Google Translate into ten different European languages. They were asking for us to proofread some of the languages. Their request had stated that the translation was done using Google translate which is “very accurate” and they simply wanted us to do a quick review on a few of the languages.

Language Marketplace does not provide proofreading services for documents translated using machine translation. Fixing a translation performed via machine will always result in a far lower quality than a professional human translation from scratch.

The fact that this was a medical technology company and a promising lifesaving product made me glance at what Google had produced. I was curious and so took a look at the files attached by the client. After one sentence, I was shaking my head. I was a little upset that a company that had spent enormous amounts of money developing a product would then risk huge liability issues with the instruction manual itself.   I explained to the client that Google Translation in fact was NOT very accurate, and expressed our concerns. We did not accept the proofreading project and never heard back from the client.

The very first sentence for the Portuguese translated “patients’ airway pressure is maintained…” into the English equivalent to “the pressure on the airlines of the patient…”
This was just in the first sentence. There were 743 words in this document and many more similar instances. This was a lifesaving medical instruction booklet. Was spending a marginal amount of money not worth it for a medical device that was being marketed across Europe to first response rescuers?

I still can’t fathom this attitude, but I’m starting to become immune to it. As a translation company we see this attitude on a VERY regular basis amongst corporations who are beginning to enter international markets. They try to save a few dollars – only to find out their labeling has been rejected in the target country or worse, they become part of a lawsuit (which does happen).

Google Translate does not have anything approaching a disclaimer on its front page (which I think will one day result in a lawsuit), but does mention buried in a link about it making intelligent guesses and so on – this presumed assumption of accuracy is misleading.

Don’t get me wrong, Google Translate is a fantastic tool that is helping narrow a large divide in understanding among the world’s languages. It has a place and that place is providing “gist” type translations; some are very good, some are laughable, and others can do great harm if taken literally. It is the latter that will result in a huge litigation at some point which will involve Google. If it can fool large corporations into believing its invincibility, then it is not protecting the public’s interest by CLEARLY explaining its limitations at the point of usage.


Ema Dantas

Business Manager