Recently a client sent me a script with multiple translation errors. It appeared that someone had used an online translator and unfortunately not a good one. While Google translator and others are getting better and can often detect contextual word usage, sometimes these programs still get it wrong.
For example, the word refill can be used as a verb or noun. In English the word can refer to prescription drugs, an ink cartridge, or a cup of coffee. In Spanish we more often say resurtir when we need to be medicated, recargar when the stupid printer says it’s out of ink again, and otra taza when the first cup of coffee just isn’t enough. Similarly, the word intoxicated in Spanish can be borracho if it’s from alcohol or endrogado if it’s from drugs, but not intoxicado which means poisoned.
Other ways machines can translate incorrectly are:
- translating word for word instead of matching the flow or positioning of words in the other language. (The red ball would be the ball red in Spanish, la pelota roja.)
- attempting to translate expressions or colloquialisms that don’t have the same meaning in the other language. (An Americano can mean a style of coffee, but estadounidense or norteamericana is unambiguously someone from the U.S.)
- translating brand names and street addresses that should not be translated at all. (Target is not el blanco and if someone lives on Park Avenue, you don’t want to send a delivery to la avenida del parque )
- translating in the wrong gender for gendered languages (the doctor is a woman would never be el doctor es una mujer; in fact, just say la doctora)
- not matching the style or intent of the original language. Some word choices are more formal or technical than others, creating a nuance that machines can’t always detect.
- not detecting typos and proofreading errors in the original text and, therefore, translating the errors.
- not detecting regional differences.
Human translators are not flawless. To be fair, less experienced or less fluent human translators can also get translations wrong in some of the same ways that machines do. But machine translators alone are just not yet good enough, and can cost you more money than they potentially save you.
What To Do
First, proofread your script whether or not it needs translating.
Next, hire a fluent and experienced translator.
Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish:
- Incorrect online machine translation: penique sabio y libra tonto
- Correct human translation: lo barato sale caro.