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Google Translate “Service” - The Duck Test


Analyzing the ranking of our translation services listing recently on Google’s search engine with the keywords Japanese Translation Services, I was surprised to see Google Translate -that would be Google’s machine translation software product- turn up on the first page near the top of the search results. Indeed, a further search of just Translation Service also turned up the same, in prime real estate.

Google Translate Service - Machine translation product

Since when is machine translation software a service?

Now, I may be somewhat old fashioned; however, my sense of “service” is delivering something of utility, free of defects and in a professional manner. That’s how we deliver Japanese translation service. A quick search for the definition of “service” in the Merriam-Webster dictionary confirmed I have the right idea:

help, use, benefit (glad to be of service)

Having said that, I’m sure the folks at Google will insist their machine translation software -Google Translate- is helpful, of use, and beneficial to whomever uses it, and that Google is glad to be of service thank you very much. Our clients, though, the ones who were unfortunately sold on the Google Translate “Service” as were these folks, would beg to differ. Some of them have incurred real economic losses due to the tyranny of poor translation quality that is the hallmark of machine translation.

But, then again, Google has a particular way of crafting the Spin. Take, for example, this memorable phrase from the Google Translate information web page:

not all translation will be perfect

This sentence is insidiously misleading. It implies that only some translation will NOT be perfect. Now, Google is trying to spin machine translation not as a product which it is, but as a service in its attempt to muscle in on the translation services industry.

Maybe someone should tell the…geniuses at Google that if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck!



About the Author
Ivan Vandermerwe is the CEO of SAECULII YK (Tokyo Japan), the owner of Japan Translation Services Tokyo Visit SAECULII for the latest professional case studies, articles and news on Japanese Translation Services

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Tags: Google Translate · Japanese Translation Services · Machine translation (MT) · Translation Services Japan · Translation Services Tokyo







2 &DISCUSS response(s) so far ↓

  • 1 » Gerry (2015-03-17)

    Your point is well taken, but it is better taken with regard to Japanese translation than for translation from languages that don't include 3.5 writing systems, one of which is pictographic. Written Japanese is hard for anybody to translate, never mind a machine. While I wouldn't trust Google Translate to do anything important, it does provide a useful service for casual translation of, say, Spanish websites.
  • 2 » SAECULII (2015-03-17)

    Thanks for your comment, Gerry. I think it is beyond dispute that machine translation does have limited utility, regardless of the language (which definitely determines quality possible). Realistically, some translations -real simple stuff- just do not require the skills (or costs!) of a translation services company. However, positioning Google Translate as an alternative to services of professional translation companies is misleading to say the very least. And, unfortunately, a lot of folks are being misled by this message...

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