The Google Translate Challenge

Language students routinely turn to the web to do their translating and there’s not much better than Google Translate. It effortlessly handless data and will translate into different scripts like Arabic and Russian, it can even translate some idiomatic phrases. It’s still a long way from being perfect, however and it gets a lot wrong.

I wanted to see if my human students could do better that the automated, super fast machine that is Google Translate. Here’s what I did.

1. I found a simple story, wrote it out in English and then pasted it into Google translate. I then translated it into the languages that my ESOL students can speak, Swahili, Arabic, Polish, Russian, Latvian, Hungarian and French.

2. In class, I handed students a copy of the story in their language and asked them to try and translate it into English. If there were two students, I asked them to team up and try to translate the story together. I told them where I got the translations and that there might be some mistakes in, but they should try to translate it the best they can. Also, before they started I pre-taught the word ‘worth’ and gave them some example sentences, this word is the key to the whole story.

3. As a group, I now asked them to shout out their translations, sentence by sentence before I showed them a copy of the real story in English.

Here’s the story I used and a link at the bottom to the translations from Google Translate.

Joe and the rich man

Joe was in a bar when a rich man came up to him.The rich man looked very healthy and sun tanned. He wore an expensive black suit and a silk tie.  He looked at Joe with a frown.
“How much do think I’m worth?” said the richman.
“I don’t know,” said Joe.
“Come on, guess how much I’m worth.”
“Okay,” said Joe, “I think you’re worth $100”The rich man laughed.
“Ha, that’s just the priceof my suit.”
“I included that in my answer,” said Joe.

Here’s the link to the translated versions:

1 Comment

  1. I really enjoyed your article! I am Polish and laughed a lot when seeing the Polish version lose the whole point of the joke in the last two lines 🙂

    You got a clear example of what Google Translate can do with your texts! I mean, when all you need is a basic understanding of a text in another language – that’s fine. However, if you are in any way using the translation in business or any other important reason; you’d better use the service of a professional translation agency which would not lose the point of your story 🙂

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