Using the Google Translate plugin on your website may seem like a good idea - it’s simple to install, it’s free, it requires minimal effort on your part, etc. But remember the old adage of “you get what you pay for”! Here are some of the issues with using this free tool instead of a professional, human translation.
Why NOT to Use Google Translate for Website Translation
10 problems with Google Translate:
- Difficult to find the language picker. Many websites think they are offering a good translation option – yet it’s a wasted effort. The language picker is located in the footer, which often makes it difficult to find even if you speak English. Imagine someone that speaks a different language trying to find it at the bottom of a page they can’t read. Check out oregon.gov or nationalgrid.com and scroll to the very bottom to see an example. Maybe it meets the government requirement for accessibility – but it really is not user-friendly.
- The languages in the picker are in English. Even if a non-English speaker finds the Google Translate drop down menu – it’s in English. It says “select a language” – if your website visitor can’t read English they won’t know to go there and select a language. Imagine that you are on a Chinese website looking for the language picker to switch it to English, how will you know where the picker is if you can’t read Chinese characters? Then, how would you know how to pick your language if you can’t read Chinese? You have to pick your language out of a list of many that are all in Chinese characters. This alone makes the plugin practically useless to put on your website.
- The translation isn’t accurate. We took a simple statement – “Cut the clutter with paperless billing” and translated it into Simplified Chinese. Then we used Google Translate to back-translate it into English. The result was “Use paperless bills to reduce confusion.” Google Translate captures a gist – but it sounds stilted and unclear. And it definitely doesn’t mean the same thing. Read the 10 Traits of a High-Quality Translation.
- You spent time on your marketing message and Google Translate doesn’t capture the meaning. Here is an example from Mazda. The tagline in Japanese is Jinba ittai – it captures the feeling of a Japanese mounted archer. Imagine - you are one with the horse as you soar across the land. It’s that moment of perfection in the feeling of movement. A few months ago, when we first put Jinba ittai in Google Translate, it translated the phrase as “danger”. If you try it now it translates as simply “jinba”, or sometimes it says “one horse”. Either way – the meaning is wrong and lacks the feeling of the original phrase. Can you imagine Mazda using the slogan “Drive a Mazda – it’s your one-horse car”. Read more in our Guide to Translating Marketing Materials.
- Languages don’t work. If it’s not installed correctly and then tested, the selections don’t work. This makes the company look sloppy and not committed to the non-English speaking market. We’ve seen websites with the plug-in that isn’t working. Make sure and test everything on your website.
- It only partially works. On some sites, the text in the body of the page is translated but the headers, footers and calls to action buttons aren’t translated, or vice versa. Try reading a site that’s half translated – check out cpsenergy.com and click on “Español” – the headers and footers appear in Spanish as well as some text here and there, but the vast majority of the text and all the graphics remain in English. This would be very frustrating for your foreign language speaking visitors.
- Increases your risk. We’ve seen currency exchange companies, law firms and other regulated industry companies risk liability using Google translate. These are highly regulated industries that require very precise language to meet the letter of the law. Making a wrong claim or giving false or confusing information because Google Translate just gave a “gist” translation puts the company is at risk. Read more about Understanding Legal Translation Services.
- It’s not culturally appropriate. Google Translate translates the words – but what about the colors and pictures as well as the cultural references? For example, last year’s Sharper Image catalog and website featured pictures of all white models. The creators didn’t include any pictures of different colors or ethnicities. If you want to relate to your audience, you need to make sure your visuals and cultural references are appropriate. Read more about Culturally Appropriate Multilingual Marketing Translation.
- Not reaching your audience. A company with the website 4tests.com offers free practice standardized tests. One of the tests is the TOEFL exam (Test of English as a Foreign Language) – the one that foreign students are required to take to be accepted to a university in the US. The website offers great advice about preparation – for example they advise not to learn English solely from movies and TV; they also advise students to study content that they’d see in a college course. Even though users may speak English well enough to comprehend this, they’ll be searching for the information in their native language. Or their parents, who will be paying for the test, may not have strong English skills and may need the information easily accessible in their native language. 4Tests.com is losing money by using Google Translate buried at the bottom of their website. Read more about Increasing Lead Generation with Website Translation.
- It doesn’t engage the customer. When you go to a website, you want to see that the company understands what you need and can meet those needs. Google translate does NOT sound like a native speaker would write. You lose your readers if you don’t take the time to give them easy to access information in their native language and that’s culturally adapted. In the world today we are surrounded by content. If it’s not engaging and easy to consume, people move on. Don’t waste your time by putting Google Translate on your website.
Even Google themselves admit that Google Translate isn't good enough, and it can not compete with the quality of human translators. Recently it was reported that the US Government was using Google Translate on social media posts to vet refugees. Google advises that the tool is not “intended to replace human translators.” Read more in the article "Google Says Google Translate Can’t Replace Human Translators. Immigration Officials Have Used It to Vet Refugees."
When to Use Google Translate
Now, with all this said, there are some good uses for Google Translate –
- Writing love letters to someone who doesn’t speak your language. Even if it’s wrong, you can laugh about it. I don’t recommend arguing using Google Translate – some mistranslated word may elevate the situation.
- Random emails – did you ever get a random email in another language and wonder if it’s junk or important? Pop it in Google Translate and get the gist. Real quickly you can tell if someone is asking you to borrow a large sum of money or whether it has to do with your business.
- Increase knowledge of how important quality translation is on matters of importance.
Professional Website Translation Done Right
When you need a culturally appropriate, thoroughly translated website contact Rapport International. We always provide high-quality, human translations that are culturally appropriate that are backed with our 100% satisfaction guarantee. Plus we will help you save money on your website translation project by providing a thorough assessment of your current needs to make sure you are only translating the essential information for your audience, we save your translations in a translation memory so that repeated information and phrases only need to be translated once, and we save you time by providing experienced project management to make the process run smoothly. Learn more about creating a plan for translation.