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Machine Translation: 3 Costly Fails

Machine Translation

Machine translation (MT) is a process that allows every user to translate text or speech from one language to another. As soon as it was developed, it created a division among professional translators. While many regard it as a helpful tool, others point at its weaknesses.

The popularity of services like Google Translate indicates that MT can quickly become a widespread tool, used in various fields (perhaps even in scientific research). As such, machine translation looks like it is here to stay, for good and bad.

With this in mind, let’s take a closer look at some failures that have already happened and how we can learn from them. After all, looking only at the positives might create a false impression that everything is fine. Here is your reality check.

Unusual Names of IKEA Products

IKEA is known for the Scandinavian names of all their products. They are hard to read and even harder to pronounce correctly. However, they may serve not only as tongue-twisters but also as excellent examples of words you should not deal with using machine translation.

When some words like “Gosa Raps” seem so familiar yet are indistinguishable, it is natural to look for their meaning using machine translation. Nevertheless, the Reddit user that did precisely that had to share his findings on the Internet.

As it turns out, Google Translate incorrectly came up with the English translation “Cuddle Rape.” As you can imagine, this is not what the Swedish company was going for.

Other notable examples of such a poor translation include spatula “Gubbrora” being translated to English as “old man touch” or plant pot “Jattebra” (which means in Swedish “really good”) sounding like a slang word for sex in Thai.

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All this led IKEA to hire translators in 2012 before printing their catalog in Thai. It shows that you should explore many translation methods when you are selling products for the global market.

For example, if you live in Northern Ireland, you might want to look for translation services in Belfast in addition to using machine translation. Do not rely solely on machine translation technology, and choose quality over quantity!

Of course, the three examples that we mentioned are not every instance of unfortunate translations that happened to IKEA. However, even they show that a human brain is necessary to understand a human language in all its beauty.

Translation Error on a Medical Report

IKEA might have lost some of their clients because of their products’ weird names, but you can find more severe consequences in some cases.

This example tells the story of a 49-year-old British woman that underwent a double mastectomy. However, this procedure eventually turned out to be unnecessary.

Doctors at Coruna’s Abente y Lago hospital should probably know that hiring a translation agency would be a better option to translate a medical report than relying on machine translation.

As it turned out, hiring human translators could prevent them from having to deal with a law case and, more importantly, from being involved in a human tragedy.

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This history shows that translation quality, especially in healthcare, should always be a priority. We need to remember that machine translation algorithms are still learning. Therefore, we should not rely on them too heavily.

Very Original “Terms and Conditions”

When an article appears in a peer-reviewed journal about your mistake, you know you did something wrong. Such was the case of a low-cost airline based in Vietnam.

Thanks to Google Translate, the airline’s official website’s “Terms and Conditions” section contained numerous mistakes. For example, “safety concerns” were translated as “anxieties about safety,” and “check-in” was translated as “examine.” It seems that, in this case, MT failed to deliver once again.

“Terms and Conditions” is an essential part of every website. It includes vital pieces of information regarding details of usage and the legal principles of each ticket. Without this section, the ticket policy of the company may be unclear.

Unfortunately, by using machine translation in their website design, the airline made several lexical, syntactic and discursive errors during the translation process. These mistakes resulted in many mind-boggling sentences.

Hopefully, the next time this airline will try to translate some important text, it will choose a human translator for this job. Machine translations have their place but should be used with caution.

The Bottom Line

Do not leave even the smallest things only for translating programs! For example, some people in your company should check social media posts before their publication. After all, we need to understand better the language we use for our communication to be successful.

Fails mentioned in this article display why a worldwide business still needs translation services. MT might be more cost-efficient and relatively easy to use. However, there is no guarantee that it will adequately understand the subject matter and produce the correct answer every time. With each passing day, we are learning more about coexisting with computers. Perhaps, one day every operating system will be sophisticated enough to hold with us a smooth conversation. Nevertheless, this time is yet to come.

Hi, I'm Michael, a research writer with expertise in technology, education, business, finance, insurance, real estate, and legal insights. My goal is to share the newest updates and trends from these industries with you.

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