5 Reasons Why Google Translate Isn't As Reliable As You Think

You've likely used Google Translate before. After all, it's ridiculously convenient -- all you need to do is type in a phrase, select the language you're translating it to and record the result. Also, the service is completely free -- what's not to love?

Plenty, as it turns out. Google Translate may be fine for simple tasks, such wishing your Italian friend "Happy Birthday" on Facebook. Anything more than that, however, and you'll quickly learn Google Translate isn't that reliable. 

Here are five reasons to ditch Google Translate for a better translation service, like Jarvisen:

It Relies Entirely on Google's Data

Google Translate relies on the available data to perform its translations. Google's data-hunting spiders typically cull this data from actual human translations. That's great until a language isn't used enough on Google to provide Translate with the necessary data. At that point, Google Translate essentially has to guess, and usually, it's just plain wrong.

Perhaps the most famous case of this came in 2012 when the website for Malaysia's Defense Ministry website used the Bahasan phrase "pakaian menjolok mata." They meant to point out that "provocative clothing" was not allowed at the Ministry. However, Google Translate did not have enough data from the Bahasan language to provide an accurate translation. Giving it its best shot, Google spat out "clothes that poke eye." The ensuring viral reaction likely made the Defense Department feel like someone had poked them in the eye.

Today, Google Translate reads "pakaian menjolok mata" as "eye-catching clothes," which is far closer to the original dialect's meaning. But this was only possible because so many people talked about the mistranslation, that Google was finally able to gather enough data for an accurate reading. If no one did, then those clothes would still be poking us in the eye to this day.

Google Translate Fares Poorly with Unusual Language Pairs

Similarly, Google doesn't have as much data on unusual language pairs, which means attempts to translate between the two could prove disastrous.

If you speak English and need to translate to French, you'll likely be just fine. Those are two super-popular languages, and their native speakers interact all the time. But what if you speak Urdu and need to translate to Turkish? It's going to prove much harder to get a decent answer out of Google, simply because those languages get represented far less.

Here's an example: let's use the phrase "pakaian menjolok mata" again. In English, Google reads that as "eye-catching clothes." But if you translate the original Bahasan phrase to Punjabi, you get "Akhāṁ phaṛana vālē kapaṛē." Translate THAT phrase to English, and Google insists it means "Eyeswear."

While it still mentions "eyes," nobody is going to mistake that for an acceptable translation. Overall, a major fail for our overlords at Google.

A Complete Lack of Privacy

One inherent problem with Google Translate is the same problem with any service Google offers: it's technically free, but you pay with your privacy.

Read Google's terms of services: "When you upload, submit, store, send or receive content to or through our Services, you give Google … a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content."

In other words, anything you plug into their system becomes theirs to do with as they please. That's not an issue if you're translating something harmless like "I enjoy candy." But what if you need to translate something private, like a contract or a confidentiality agreement? Use Google for that, and the monolith now has access to all that private information.

They may never do anything with it, but they could, and you legally let them do so. For that issue alone, it's best to steer clear of Google Translate when you need to decipher anything of even minor importance.

Google Won't Rate a Translation's Accuracy

The problem with a company as big as Google is they don't have to explain themselves. And so it is with Google Translate: you have no way of truly knowing if the translation is accurate because Google won't tell you. There's no way to rate a translation's accuracy, meaning you have to believe Google knows what it's doing.

The only reason anyone knew about the "pakaian menjolok mata" fiasco was that some Bahasan speakers noticed the error and commented on it. Google didn't provide any hint that it was a bad translation, and was never going to. It took humans outside of Google to do that.

You Have to be Connected and Online at all Times

For Google Translate to work at all, you must be online. So if you're traveling somewhere where the wi-fi is spotty, but you need to translate something, you're fresh out of luck. Some Google features work offline, but Google Translate is not one of them.

That's why a device like Jarvisen is so handy. While you do need to be online to use most of its translation services, our built-in global data lets you access the internet anywhere. You don't need to worry about tracking down a hot-spot or handling all your translation in your hotel room.

But if you need to be offline, specific language pairs work on Jarvisen without data! If you're translating from English to Chinese, Japanese to Chinese, Korean to Chinese, or Russian to Chinese (among others), then you don't need to be online to do so. It's all built right into the Jarvisen.

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