So you think users visiting your website get to see what you wrote? Not with Google Chrome, they don’t.
I had a call from my dad recently that went like this:
- “Hey Sylvain, about your website…”
- “What about it?”
The question was pure rhetoric, I was already pretty sure I knew what was wrong, but I let him explain:
- “Well, I don’t think you should be doing translations anymore. Your French is a mess these days. I mean, just look at your website. The French translation sucks. You call that French?”
- “Actually dad, my website is in English only. It’s not translated at all.”
- “But I am on your website right now! It says ‘J’ai un tas d’entre eux dans différents états d’achèvement…’. That’s supposed to be French, right?”
- “Let me guess: you’re using Google Chrome? Look on top of the browser, don’t you see a bar that says the page has been automatically translated?”
- “Ah, yes, you’re right. Sorry. Man, this is scary; I thought you lost it big time.”
We spend the next few minutes laughing about Google’s translation mistakes (which is pretty darn good, as far as machine translation goes), but as I hanged up the phone, I couldn’t help but feel pretty bad about the whole thing. There is something disturbing here.
I tend to be a Google fan. In fact, I was the one who recommended Google Chrome to my parents in the first place, and Google Chrome now stabs me in the back.
This is off the rails! How dare they summarily replace my whole website’s content with machine translation on account of some obscure language setting in the browser? As a professional translator with 10 years of experience, I would hate people to think that Google‘s machine translation is an actual sample of my work.
Through no fault of my own, my own parents formed a rather low opinion of my skills and competence. And what of my potential customers reading what they think is a representative sample of my services? After all, the main reason why I have a website in the first place is to sell my translation services. Does Google think potential customers are impressed with automatic translation?
And it doesn’t stop with translation services either: what are the consequences of poor translations on your company’s image? Let’s say a visitor comes on your website and find a poorly written copy supposedly in his language?
With my parents, at least, I had an opportunity to set the record straight. Not so with casual visitors. No one in his right mind would hire a professional translator to produce this kind of atrocities.
Sure, it was my parent’s fault, to some degree. They could have noticed the ” translation bar” telling them that Google Chrome had decided to translate the whole thing for them, but the truth of the matter is that they didn’t. People learn to focus on the parts of a page that interest them and ignore the rest. They don’t look at the browser, they look at the page (and Google Chrome is specifically designed for that purpose). I bet a lot of people just don’t realize Chrome is translating stuff for them on a regular basis.
Better yet, since Google Chrome updates automatically and silently, the user can never predict accurately how Google Chrome will react in any given circumstances. You think you know how this browser works, but you can’t even begin to guess how it will really work tomorrow, let alone a week from now.
I have to say I am a bit conflicted on this issue. On the one hand, by making it easy to translate web pages inside Google Chrome, Google is providing a great service to the users (including myself), but on the other hand, doing so in such a transparent fashion can cause serious problems. People have to make that decision consciously.
My story above is just one (funny?) example of the downsides of that feature, but there are tons of other potential dangers. Automatic translation can easily mislead people and cause grave misunderstandings. People rely more and more on the Web for just about anything, including learning how to use electric equipment, machines and the like. Failure to properly identify machine translation could result in a serious loss of reputation or even in accidents.
The better the machine translation gets, the worse it becomes, in that people are less and less likely to realize that the translation was done by a machine with NO UNDERSTANDING. It is common to have a “translation” say the exact opposite of what the original text meant. To paraphrase a popular saying, every translator can make mistakes, but for epic failures, you need a computer.
Oh, well, here is my rant of the day.
I have contacted Google about this, and I am looking for solutions to prevent the problem. So far, nearly 4,000 people have visited my website using Google Chrome. How many of these visitors have actually seen my website as opposed to whatever machine translation Google decided to show them? Have I lost sales in the process?