Global Lingo Blog

Gmail or G-fail? Is Gmail’s auto-translate reliable?

G-mail, last week introduced a new auto-translate feature which provides all users with a free service that instantly translates emails from one language to another.

What is Automatic Message Translation?

  • The automatic message translation (AMT) tool functions by supplying users with an automatically prompted translation button for any message that Google recognises to be in their non-default language
  • The tool allows users to translate their e-mail to any of the 53 languages available in the drop down menu
  • Users are able to choose a default language that Google would, from then on, assume to translate all incoming emails to
  • Users still have the option to translate to any other language at any point
  • There is also the option to “always translate” all email content in different languages into your own
  • There is the option to translate on a “per-email” basis by using the manual settings available in the tool bar

How does it work?

Google state that when “Google Translate generates a translation, it looks for patterns in hundreds of millions of documents to help decide on the best translation for you. By detecting patterns in documents that have already been translated by human translators Google Translate can make intelligent guesses as to what an appropriate translation should be.

This process of seeking patterns in large amounts of text is called “statistical machine translation”.

Since the translations are generated by machines, not all translation will be perfect.”

Google claim to intelligently guess as to what is an appropriate translation, therefore the chances of the automated “Guess” providing users with an accurate translation are very slim.

Is this feature more reliable than Google Translate?

In theory no, whilst users save time copying and pasting from their inbox to the Google translation tool, the concept and the process of translation is still the same. Users will continue to face the familiar failures and unreliable characteristics of Google translate.

Google Translate, as do all machine translation tools, fails to recognise context. Machine translation tools solely recognise and translate words so machine translations offer users misinterpretations and inaccurate information.

Wikus Engelbrecht at memeburn.com discusses AMT further and why G-mails automatic message translation spells trouble for your email campaign.

There is no guarantee using AMT

Whilst we praise Gmail for promoting the use of translation and supporting international communications, we can’t help but think Gmail’s new AMT tool is simply a more convenient version of Google Translate.

Google cannot guarantee an accurate, faultless translation therefore should not be relied upon for business messages or marketing communications. If the AMT tool is used for anything other than personal, informal emails the chances are your message will be out of context, inaccurate and, whilst the basic message may be apparent, the structure and word order will be incorrect.

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