Monday, May 16, 2011

Is Google Translate reliable?

On 28 of April, the Chinese premier Wen JiaBao visited Malaysia. During the welcoming ceremony in Putrajaya, there was a banner written in Malay and Chinese, which horrified almost everyone who knows the Chinese language.

On the banner, it was written:
In Malay: "Istiadat Sambutan Rasmi Sempena Lawatan Rasmi TYT Wen Jiabao Ke Malaysia"
Translation in English would be: "Official welcoming ceremony in conjunction with official visit of His Excellency Wen Jiabao to Malaysia."

In Chinese: "正式欢迎仪式,与他一起温家宝阁下的正式访问马来西亚."
Translation in English: "Official welcoming ceremony, together with him His Excellency Wen Jabao's offical visit Malaysia."

The translation in Chinese contains huge grammatical and syntax errors. If I was only given the Chinese sentence without the Malay original text, I won't have known what it actually means.


After the incident, the Prime Minister of Malaysia apologized to the Premier of such an embarrassing mistake. The Premier smiled a said: "It is just a small matter, don't worry about it, it won't jeopardize the relationship within the two countries."

While facing the press about this mistake, the Prime Minister said he would find out the source of mistake and another minister who was accompanying the Premier suggested a ban on using Google Translate on important official ceremonies within the government agencies. Despite all these aftermath talks, for me, the damages were done. The mistake was captured into photos which has circulated within the blogspere. Malaysia always tries to portrait itself as a country that consists of multi-ethnics with people speaking in different languages including Chinese. Now, those Chinese delegates who came with the premier, had their very first impression of Malaysia's Chinese level, that they would later share with their counterparts in China. Surely the photos of the premier's visit were published in the Chinese's medias with this banner as background.

For me, Google Translate is a good tool if you want to find a translation for certain words, but not with a long sentence. If you want to translate sentence, it is better that you have some knowledges on both languages involved. The mistake in the banner would be easily detected by anyone who has basic Chinese knowledge. However, I don't think everyone is capable of coming up with the right translation. For a machine, what do you expect?

1 comment:

  1. I am shocked that the Malaysian government would rely exclusively on Google translator to do the work. Google translator is not fool proof and have miles to go. BTW, love your blog !