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How to Use Google Translate for Text, Images, and Real-time Conversations

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Jonathan Fisher is a CompTIA-certified technologist with more than 10 years of experience writing for publications like TechNorms and Help Desk Geek.

google translate in essay

  • Wichita Technical Institute
  • Translate Text With Google Translate
  • Translate Images
  • Translate Words and Speech
  • Translate Real-Time Conversations

How Many Languages Does Google Translate Support?

  • Get Google Translate

What to Know

  • For text: Select a language > Tap to enter text > begin typing > Enter .
  • For spoken word: Select a language > tap the mic > begin speaking at the beep. Tap the Speaker icon to hear the translation.
  • For conversations: Select a language > tap Conversation > begin speaking. Watch the screen for the translation.

This article explains how to use Google's Translate tool, which can handle text, images, speech, and even real-time conversations.

How to Translate Text With Google Translate

Translating text is the easiest and most well-supported function of Google Translate. Here's how to translate any text you come across.

Select the name of the source language you want to translate from in the top-left of the screen. In this example, we're using English .

Then select the name of the destination language you want to translate to in the screen's top-right. In this example, we're using Spanish .

Select the field that says Tap to enter text and either type or copy and paste (press and hold) the text you want to translate into this field.

You can also use the predictive text function to help write what you want to translate quicker.

The Google Translate app will continually translate what you're writing in the field underneath. At any time during this translation process, you can tap the Speaker icon to hear what it sounds like in your chosen translation language.

When you're finished typing you can use the right arrow or Enter key to return to the previous screen, then if you want to copy the translation, tap the three-dot menu icon and select Share .

How to Translate Images

Translating a foreign language from an image or picture using your camera or previous images is super handy when you're out and about. In our example, we'll use a food menu.

Select the source language and the translation language at the top of the screen. In this example, we are using Chinese to English .

Select the Camera icon.

Align what you want to translate in your camera window and select Instant .

If you want to translate an image you already have, select the Import button and then locate and select the image on your device. Then skip to Step 4 .

Google will translate the image on your device. It may take a moment for the translation to complete, but once it does, you'll be able to select individual words in the image to highlight their translation.

Some languages offer live translation, but others require a saved image. To scan and save a selection for translation, select the Scan button.

How to Translate Words and Speech

Translating what you say into a different language is one of the most useful features of Google Translate when traveling or just trying to learn a new language . Here's how to do it.

Select the source language and the translate to language at the top of the screen.

Tap the microphone icon and when prompted with a beep, begin speaking. Google will automatically translate your voice into text form.

Select the Speaker icon to hear the translation spoken back to you.

If you want to dictate what you say into a different language instead, select the Transcribe icon. Then begin speaking as before, and what you say will be translated into your destination language on screen.

Transcribing is different than dictating. When you're dictating, you're just using your voice instead of a keyboard or stylus to input data to be translated. When you're transcribing, you're creating a written output of your voice. Transcribing is especially useful if you need to send a message or write an email.

Tap the microphone and then begin speaking as before..

What you say will be translated into your destination language on screen. When you're finished speaking, tap the microphone again to end the transcription.

How to Translate Real-Time Conversations

You can also use Google Translate to facilitate a live conversation between you and someone who speaks a language you don't understand.

Select the source and destination languages at the top of the screen.

Select the Conversation icon. 

You can manually select the speaker's language at any one time to force the app to use that as the source or select the Auto button to allow the app to determine who is speaking at any one time.

Begin speaking. The translation of what you're saying will appear on screen, as will a translation for any replies from the person you are speaking to. This lets you both see what's being said in real-time.

Google Translate can translate about 103 different languages for text translation. Although not all of them are as natural as each other, and 59 are supported offline, it covers much of the world and its most populous languages.

New languages can often be added, so you can check out the complete list of languages supported on the Google site.

Real-time speech conversations support 43 distinct languages, while camera image translation is available in up to 88 languages. You might think handwriting is more challenging, but it supports 95 different languages.

How to Get Google Translate

To make the most of Google Translate, you'll need to download and install the app on your compatible Android or iOS device . Before beginning any of the instructions below, make sure the app is open and functioning.

Download for:

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Machine Translation Accuracy: Google Translate Case Study

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Problem Definition

Task definition, proposed solution.

Machine translation accuracy is a relevant topic, and technology that can successfully convert text from one language into another while keeping the meaning as similar as possible is in high demand. According to Anggaira and Hadi (2017), Google Translate is an inadequate tool for the purpose, mainly when translating less common languages. The software tends to commit numerous morphological and syntax mistakes, and a human language expert should analyze the output to fix errors and correct misinterpreted passages. As such, the problems that the solution attempted to address were the low accuracy and frequent errors committed by the program, particularly when working with less popular languages.

According to Castelvecchi (2016), Google’s algorithms previously did not rely on artificial neural networks, working with traditional methods. Castelvecchi (2016) notes that the tool would scan text word by word, browsing through its database of existing translations and looking for similar situations. The approach is effective at parsing shorter, uncomplicated sentences, but intricate word constructions can severely confuse the machine and cause the structure of the text past the problematic segment to crumble. According to Castelvecchi (2016), Google had to implement an approach that would be able to analyze a sentence by starting from the smallest syntax units and combining them to form meanings.

Machine translation tools accept text in a predefined language as an input and return writing with the same meaning in another requested language as an output. According to Sreelekha, Bhattacharyya, and Malathi (2016), the market for the technology will grow in the future, and translation speed, cost, and quality are all significant factors in the success of an application. Google’s service provides translations adequately quickly and is free for customers, leaving the concern of quality. As almost all machine translations are flawed, the field represents a vital area for improvement if a company wants to obtain an advantage over its competitors.

Expanding the application’s vocabulary and improving its understanding of intricate text constructions contribute to the enhancement of the translation process. According to Li, Zhang, and Zong (2016), unknown words represent a significant challenge for machine translation systems, as they are challenging to handle when the system knows neither the meaning nor the type of the word. However, according to Castelvecchi (2016), Google chose to concentrate on analyzing sentence structure and correctly interpreting word combinations. This choice is likely due to the size of the company’s database described by Castelvecchi (2016), which significantly increases the application’s vocabulary compared to its competitors.

According to Castelvecchi (2016), Google chose to implement translation via neural network analysis to improve the company’s business process, as the approach is effective at improving the quality of tasks that benefit from analytical abilities. According to Luong and Manning (2015), neural machine translation is conceptually simple but can achieve results comparable to state-of-the-art traditional algorithms. The idea requires the creation of a neural network and its education through studying the existing translations compiled by Google. During the supervised learning process, the system becomes capable of predicting and constructing a logic that contains language rules and decision trees for ambiguous situations.

Google will likely optimize the procedures, as the translation tool is expected to assist large numbers of people simultaneously. According to Zhang and Zong (2015), the algorithm can be applied to analyze text mathematically, but also to capture significant amounts of contextual information, improving the speed and accuracy of the translation. When viewed as a black box, the algorithm accepts a text passage and two languages as inputs (the application supports a language recognition option, but the feature can be viewed separately) and produces a matching section of text in the second language as the output.

Google is not the first to implement neural networks in machine translations, but the company may have introduced the approach in a commercial product before its competitors. However, the company has resolved specific issues in an innovative way, such as zero-shot translation (Verma, Jain, Basak, and Saksena, 2018). The concept refers to interpretations of segments for which the application does not have a point of reference and therefore has to “guess” at the correct answer. The ability to perform zero-shot translations significantly enhances the algorithm’s ability to translate text between unpopular languages, where the reference base and training opportunities might be lacking.

Furthermore, the unexplored state of the neural machine translation field, as well as the vast resources at Google’s disposal, allow the company to modify the system with various innovative approaches. Google employs a large number of researchers ( Research, n.d.) that continually investigate potential opportunities for improvement. As such, although the core idea is not innovative, the surrounding details enable a variety of new approaches and ideas.

While the algorithm itself does not concern itself with ethics, Google Translate is subject to two variants of ethical concern. The first one is the ethics of the tool and its parent company with regard to the privacy of its users. According to Kamocki and O’Regan (2016), all the information entered into the application is processed on Google servers, and nothing prevents the company from saving the data and using it later. Furthermore, most users are not aware of the fact or do not pay much attention, which exacerbates the risk.

Good practice regarding the issue would require Google to notify users that their inputs may be collected and analyzed and possibly enable the option to decline such data submissions. Schaub, Balebako, Durity, and Cranor (2015) describe a variety of factors that should be considered when designing privacy notices as well as use cases that match the various uses of Google Translate. Currently, the application keeps its privacy statement on a separate page twice removed from the main one, and the button that lets the user access the policy is small and does not attract significant attention.

Anggaira, A. S., & Hadi, M. S. (2017). Linguistic errors on narrative text translation using Google Translate. Pedagogy: Journal of English Language Teaching, 5 (1), 1-14.

Castelvecchi, D. (2016). Deep learning boosts Google Translate tool. Web.

Kamocki, P., & O’Regan, J. (2016). Privacy issues in online machine translation services – European perspective . Web.

Li, X., Zhang, J., & Zong, C. (2016). Towards zero unknown word in neural machine translation. In Proceedings of the Twenty-Fifth International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence (pp. 2852-2858). Palo Alto, CA: AAAI Press.

Luong, M. T., & Manning, C. D. (2015). Stanford neural machine translation systems for spoken language domains . Web.

Research. (n.d.). Web.

Schaub, F., Balebako, R., Durity, A. L., & Cranor, L. F. (2015). A design space for effective privacy notices. In Eleventh Symposium on Usable Privacy and Security (pp. 1-17). Ottawa, Canada: Carleton University.

Sreelekha, S., Bhattacharyya, P., Jha, S. K., & Malathi, D. (2016). A survey report on evolution of machine translation. International Journal of Control Theory and Applications, 9 (33), 233-240.

Verma, M. N., Jain, A., Basak, A., & Saksena, K. B. (2018). Survey and analysis on language translator using neural machine translation. International Research Journal of Engineering and Technology, 5 (4), 3720-3726.

Zhang, J., & Zong, C. (2015). Deep neural networks in machine translation: An overview. IEEE Intelligent Systems, 30 (5), 16-25.

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IvyPanda. (2022, January 20). Machine Translation Accuracy: Google Translate. https://ivypanda.com/essays/google-translate-case-study/

"Machine Translation Accuracy: Google Translate." IvyPanda , 20 Jan. 2022, ivypanda.com/essays/google-translate-case-study/.

IvyPanda . (2022) 'Machine Translation Accuracy: Google Translate'. 20 January.

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Pros and Cons of Google Translate

The Pros and Cons of Google Translate vs. Professional Translation

If you’ve ever taken a foreign language course, teachers and professors implore students not to use Google Translate as a tool for completing assignments. Still, many students go ahead and put their English essays into the online machine in order to get their nicely translated Spanish essay out to turn in to the teacher. The only problem is that most teachers can tell when a student has used an online translator like Google Translate since more often than not, the translation is inaccurate and ungrammatical. If Google Translate poses a problem in education, how much more of a problem is it for professionals working across languages and cultures, and what are the pros and cons of Google translate vs. professional translation services ?

The Pros and Cons of Google Translate in the Professional World of Translation

The pros and cons of Google translate not only impact professional translators in the language service industry, but rather anyone who chooses to use it as a translation tool. Certainly, online public access to a free, quick, and relatively accurate translation method represents significant progress in translation technology. But when one directly compares translation quality and accuracy using Google Translate with that of an experienced human translator, there is no real comparison.

The way that Google Translate works is that it uses frequency of word pairs between two languages as a database for its translations. Although this works well in some cases, often this means that it cannot put a translation into proper context without the help of a human. In fact, it may in some circumstances come up with outright errors or extremely awkward literal translations. While these can often be amusing, there is nothing funny about making mistakes on serious business document translations or when critical information is communicated incorrectly. So what are the pros and cons of Google translate vs. professional translation?

Pros and Cons of Google Translate

  • Google Translate is free . An experienced professional translator can sometimes be costly, but remember you get what you pay for.
  • Google Translate is quick . One of the main advantages of Google Translate is that it is very fast. In fact, a human translator(s) cannot compete with the speed nor, as a result, the quantity of translations that Google Translate is able to perform. In an average workday an experienced translator can translate about 2,000 words maximum (300-400 words/hour) depending on the difficulty of the text. In contrast, Google Translate is able to produce a translation with the same number of words in just seconds!
  • Google Translate uses a statistical method to form an online translation database based on language pair frequency . Google Translate uses a statistical approach to build an online database for translations that are often ( but not always ) produced by humans and are available online.
  • With Google Translate  the meaning can be “lost in translation” because there is no way to incorporate context .  The complexity of the text, as well as any context which cannot be interpreted without a true knowledge of the language, makes the likelihood of errors greater. Direct translation is common with Google Translate and often results in nonsensical literal translations while professional translators take great pains to ensure that this does not happen by using well-established online glossaries, back translation methods, proof readers and reviewers.
  • The quality of translation is dependent on the language pair.   Which  source and target languages are involved also affects the quality of the translation. Since Google’s web-based translation database is built primarily from existing online translations, common translations for languages e.g. Spanish or English tend to be more accurate while translations for other languages that are not as available in Google’s database are less likely to be accurate.
  • Google Translate often produces translations that contain significant grammatical errors . This is due to the fact that Google’s translation system uses a method based on language pair frequency that does not take into account grammatical rules.
  • Google Translate does not have a system to correct for translation errors.  There is no way of reporting errors in order to avoid having them repeated, nor is there a way to proof read what has been translated unless one is fluent in both the source and the target language.

Let me demonstrate these issues more clearly by providing you with an example of a Google translation from Spanish into Greek and English for a common Spanish expression.  The phrase “Me estas tomando el pelo” means “you’re kidding” in Spanish, but Google translates this as “Νέου Πλάκα μου κάνεις” in Greek or  “New Kidding” in English.  Of course this is not a terribly damaging error, just cause for confusion. Let’s look at what happens though when Google Translate is used for something more serious with greater consequences.

Recently, there was an incident involving the Malaysian Defense Ministry, who decided to use Google Translate to produce an English version of its official website. The English version of the website was soon taken down after several blatant mistakes went viral on Twitter and Facebook causing quite a bit of embarrassment.  Among the more amusing mistranslations were details regarding the staff’s “ethical” dress code. For example, that women in the ministry should not wear “revealing clothes” was translated as “clothes that poke the eye,” a literal translation of the Malay phrase “pakaian yang menjolok mata.” But the most damaging translation error was the following sentence regarding the ministry’s history: “After the withdrawal of British army, the Malaysian Government take drastic measures to increase the level of any national security threat.”

Now That We’ve Listed the Pros and Cons of Google Translate – Do The Pros Outweigh The Cons?

So as you can see the pros and cons of google translate make it clear that, although you may sometimes have success using Google translate, you would not want to use it for anything of great importance without checking to make sure that there are no errors in context, grammar or otherwise. That is a job for a professional translator. If there is no other choice and you need to translate something which will not impact your life or business in any major way then go ahead and use Google Translate. Or if you must use Google Translate, make sure that you have a native speaker proof read and review the text!

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Is it plagiarism to use Google Translate?

This may be a very very stupid question but I need to ask it. I have written my dissertation in my mother tongue first, then began to translate it as I will submit it in English. While doing so I used Google Translate from time to time. I didn't copy anything from anybody, only translated my own sentences. But I also read somewhere that since Google saves everything you write online, programs like turnitin detect them and take it as plagiarism. Is it? Or even if it is not plagiarism, would it cause me some problems? I really need to be sure about this, please do not answer if you are not 100% sure.

Edit: I want to add that I did not simply copy and paste everything from there, I just benefited from it sometimes and of course always correcting the dumb grammatical mistakes.

  • translation

Cyn's user avatar

7 Answers 7

There is no way in which anyone would be able to present a convincing case that this is plagiarism. You have the original (the version in your mother tongue) which predates the google logs.

It is still possible that a plagiarism scanning tool would detect it in the way you described, but you will be able to explain it away very easy.

That type of tools also pick up any citations that you use as possible plagiarism, even if the use is completely legitimate. A human always have to analyse the output to determine if it is legitimate or not.

Just keep the original version and this should be no problem.

rasan076's user avatar

Translating your own work using GoogleTranslate is not plagiarism, any more than hiring someone to translate your work would be considered plagiarism. (In the latter case, you would insert a line stating "translated by...")

While Google does store what you write, it's not a dump of "everything ever written in any form by anyone" that plagiarism-detecting tools later go over. Instead, there is "everything published online", which Google doesn't store , merely indexes so it can be found. Software searching for plagiarism would be going over (a subset of) that. And there is the stuff you've entered into Google's search line. Some of it, Google stores. And does analysis on. But it's not really accessible, except in aggregated form - "N people this year searched for X". As for what people search to translate, I'm not sure Google stores that at all, but if they do, it would be in the same sort of "bucket" as the searches - not the "bucket" plagiarism-detecting tools would search. (Somebody more tech-savvy is more than welcome to improve on this explanation.)

As @rasan076 points out , there's always a human at the end of the line, reviewing what the software spits out, and figuring out whether there's really any plagiarism. Since you hold the original work, it is very clear that there isn't. Basically, it's your work. You publish it online, you do whatever with it, it's still your work. No plagiarism.

Only problem you might run into is, Google Translate is not a very good translator. Your sentences might well lose their original meaning, or any semblance of meaning at all.

Galastel supports GoFundMonica's user avatar

  • A few years ago there was a big upgrade in the capabilities of Google Translate. It's far from perfect but it's a lot closer to human-generated translation, especially for European languages. The German-English pairing is surprisingly good according to a friend who works as a translator between German and English. –  D. A. Hosek Commented Jan 4, 2021 at 7:05

No, but you will likely end up with a lot of errors. It's not plagiarism, because it's not like Google Translate uses an advanced AI to turn your writing into a masterpiece. However, it might be considered to be plagiarism in the future when the AI improves and can literally improve your writing, and you use it to improve your writing.

puffofsmoke's user avatar

As a French teacher, I agree 100% with D Nappo. I have just finished reading final essays by 11th grade students (level III Honors) who are to be writing in their best French and a number of them turned in glowing compositions more typical of a college student's writing or beyond (despite numerous discussions, examples, documentation in the syllabus, etc). However, the initial inquiry above is a different case. The candidate has written his/her dissertation in the mother tongue and needs it be in English. It is not the English that is being graded whereas in a language teacher's case, the accurate and proper use of technical expression is what is graded and if said content/expression is not derived in the target language via the student's original thinking and depends on an external source, it is indeed plagiarism. It certainly would be interesting and quite comical if a student submitted a composition in French and credited Google translator as the source! :)

Nancy's user avatar

Using Google Translate is not plagiarism, but it's not automatically free and clear either.

Google Translate is a tool, and tools have terms of service. If you use any tool be it Google Translate , Word, or a music synthesizer what you need to know is under what terms you are using those tools.

When you use these kinds of tools, most commonly online or install software on your machine you agree to a an end user agreement or terms of service. In those terms it will describe how you can use the out put of that tool. As I am not going to give legal advice here, I will say you need to read Google Translate's terms and see if they permit you to use the output in the way that you want.

This applies to anyone in other questions talking about AI, and it's complexity. No matter how simple or complex the UI is unless we have AI rights in some far off future, it will always come down to under what terms you are using the AI. For instance many products let you use it for free if you are not using it to make money, but if you are you need to purchase a license or pay for it in some other way.

TLDR Always read the fine print before you use anything commercially.

Andrey's user avatar

I think plagiarism is not the real issue here. It's ultimately about the second part of your question -- what it means for the quality of the end result.

I don't know about dissertations but I was recently talking to someone who knows multiple languages and asked him about whether tools like Google Translate can ever really substitute for human translation. Perhaps not surprisingly, his answer was no, in part because of the many nuances and complexity of languages. If you're going to be submitting a dissertation, you want to have something that looks and reads as professionally as possible.

More details on the technical nature of this debate are in this article .

Depending on how often you're going to be referencing material in another language, I'd even think about learning it, or at least the basics. There proliferation of ESL classes and French classes has prompted a lot of other organizations to provide classes where you can become fluent relatively quickly.

Good luck with your dissertation!

ShaneSchick's user avatar

Using Google Translate or another machine translation engine is absolutely plagiarism. Translating a text from one language to another requires work, mental energy, and one is relying on an algorithm to do it (rather than doing it oneself). If one submits a text translated by a machine without citing that machine, it is work being passed off as one's own. In other words, classic plagiarism.

D Nappo's user avatar

  • 1 That's not what plagiarism means. –  D. A. Hosek Commented Jan 4, 2021 at 7:06

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged translation plagiarism or ask your own question .

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google translate in essay

The Shallowness of Google Translate

The program uses state-of-the-art AI techniques, but simple tests show that it’s a long way from real understanding.

Hands hold a smartphone in front of a sign saying "Bienvenue," and the smartphone reads "Welcome."

One Sunday, at one of our weekly salsa sessions, my friend Frank brought along a Danish guest. I knew Frank spoke Danish well, because his mother was Danish, and he had lived in Denmark as a child. As for his friend, her English was fluent, as is standard for Scandinavians. However, to my surprise, during the evening’s chitchat it emerged that the two friends habitually exchanged emails using Google Translate. Frank would write a message in English, then run it through Google Translate to produce a new text in Danish; conversely, she would write a message in Danish, then let Google Translate anglicize it. How odd! Why would two intelligent people, each of whom spoke the other’s language well, do this? My own experiences with machine-translation software had always led me to be highly skeptical of it. But my skepticism was clearly not shared by these two. Indeed, many thoughtful people are quite enamored of translation programs, finding little to criticize in them. This baffles me.

As a language lover and an impassioned translator, as a cognitive scientist and a lifelong admirer of the human mind’s subtlety, I have followed the attempts to mechanize translation for decades. When I first got interested in the subject, in the mid-1970s, I ran across a letter written in 1947 by the mathematician Warren Weaver, an early machine-translation advocate, to Norbert Wiener, a key figure in cybernetics, in which Weaver made this curious claim, today quite famous:

When I look at an article in Russian, I say, “This is really written in English, but it has been coded in some strange symbols. I will now proceed to decode.”

Some years later he offered a different viewpoint: “No reasonable person thinks that a machine translation can ever achieve elegance and style. Pushkin need not shudder.” Whew! Having devoted one unforgettably intense year of my life to translating Alexander Pushkin’s sparkling novel in verse, Eugene Onegin , into my native tongue (that is, having radically reworked that great Russian work into an English-language novel in verse), I find this remark of Weaver’s far more congenial than his earlier remark, which reveals a strangely simplistic view of language. Nonetheless, his 1947 view of translation as decoding became a credo that has long driven the field of machine translation.

Since those days, “translation engines” have gradually improved, and recently the use of so-called deep neural nets has even suggested to some observers (see “ The Great A.I. Awakening ” by Gideon Lewis-Kraus in The New York Times Magazine , and “ Machine Translation: Beyond Babel ” by Lane Greene in The Economist ) that human translators may be an endangered species. In this scenario, human translators would become, within a few years, mere quality controllers and glitch fixers rather than producers of fresh new text.

Such a development would cause a soul-shattering upheaval in my mental life. Although I fully understand the fascination of trying to get machines to translate well, I am not in the least eager to see human translators replaced by inanimate machines. Indeed, the idea frightens and revolts me. To my mind, translation is an incredibly subtle art that draws constantly on one’s many years of life experience, and on one’s creative imagination. If, some “fine” day, human translators were to become relics of the past, my respect for the human mind would be profoundly shaken, and the shock would leave me reeling with terrible confusion and immense, permanent sadness.

Each time I read an article claiming that the guild of human translators will soon be forced to bow down before the terrible, swift sword of some new technology, I feel the need to check the claims out myself, partly out of a sense of terror that this nightmare just might be around the corner, more hopefully out of a desire to reassure myself that it’s not just around the corner, and finally, out of my long-standing belief that it’s important to combat exaggerated claims about artificial intelligence. And so after reading about how the old idea of artificial neural networks, recently adopted by a branch of Google called Google Brain and now enhanced by “deep learning,” has resulted in a new kind of software that has allegedly revolutionized machine translation, I decided I had to check out the latest incarnation of Google Translate. Was it a game changer, as Deep Blue and AlphaGo were for the venerable games of chess and Go?

I learned that although the older version of Google Translate can handle a very large repertoire of languages, its new deep-learning incarnation at the time worked for just nine languages. (It’s now expanded to 96.) * Accordingly, I limited my explorations to English, French, German, and Chinese.

Before showing my findings, though, I should point out that an ambiguity in the adjective deep is being exploited here. When one hears that Google bought a company called DeepMind whose products have “deep neural networks” enhanced by “deep learning,” one cannot help taking the word deep to mean “profound,” and thus “powerful,” “insightful,” “wise.” And yet, the meaning of deep in this context comes simply from the fact that these neural networks have more layers (12, say) than older networks, which might have only two or three. But does that sort of depth imply that whatever such a network does must be profound ? Hardly. This is verbal spinmeistery.

I am very wary of Google Translate, especially given all the hype surrounding it. But despite my distaste, I recognize some astonishing facts about this bête noire of mine. It is accessible for free to anyone on Earth, and will convert text in any of roughly 100 languages into text in any of the others. That is humbling. If I am proud to call myself “pi-lingual” (meaning the sum of all my fractional languages is a bit more than 3, which is my lighthearted way of answering the question “How many languages do you speak?”), then how much prouder should Google Translate be, as it could call itself “bai-lingual” ( bai being Mandarin for “100”). To a mere pi-lingual, bai-lingualism is most impressive. Moreover, if I copy and paste a page of text in Language A into Google Translate, only moments will elapse before I get back a page filled with words in Language B. And this is happening all the time on screens all over the planet, in dozens of languages.

The practical utility of Google Translate and similar technologies is undeniable, and probably a good thing overall, but there is still something deeply lacking in the approach, which is conveyed by a single word: understanding. Machine translation has never focused on understanding language. Instead, the field has always tried to “decode”—to get away with not worrying about what understanding and meaning are. Could it in fact be that understanding isn’t needed in order to translate well? Could an entity, human or machine, do high-quality translation without paying attention to what language is all about? To shed some light on this question, I turn now to the experiments I did.

I began my explorations very humbly, using the following short remark, which, in a human mind, evokes a clear scenario:

In their house, everything comes in pairs. There’s his car and her car, his towels and her towels, and his library and hers.

The translation challenge seems straightforward, but in French (and other Romance languages), the words for “his” and “her” don’t agree in gender with the possessor , but with the item possessed. So here’s what Google Translate gave me:

Dans leur maison, tout vient en paires. Il y a sa voiture et sa voiture, ses serviettes et ses serviettes, sa bibliothèque et les siennes.

The program fell into my trap, not realizing, as any human reader would, that I was describing a couple, stressing that for each item he had, she had a similar one. For example, the deep-learning engine used the word sa for both “his car” and “her car,” so you can’t tell anything about either car owner’s gender. Likewise, it used the genderless plural ses both for “his towels” and “her towels,” and in the last case of the two libraries, his and hers, it got thrown by the final s in “hers” and somehow decided that that s represented a plural (“ les siennes ”). Google Translate’s French sentence missed the whole point.

Next I translated the challenge phrase into French myself, in a way that did preserve the intended meaning. Here’s my French version:

Chez eux, ils ont tout en double. Il y a sa voiture à elle et sa voiture à lui, ses serviettes à elle et ses serviettes à lui, sa bibliothèque à elle et sa bibliothèque à lui.

The phrase “ sa voiture à elle ” spells out the idea of “her car,” and similarly, “ sa voiture à lui ” can only be heard as meaning “his car.” At this point, I figured it would be trivial for Google Translate to carry my French translation back into English and get the English right on the money, but I was dead wrong. Here’s what it gave me:

At home, they have everything in double. There is his own car and his own car, his own towels and his own towels, his own library and his own library.

What?! Even with the input sentence screaming out the owners’ genders as loudly as possible, the translating machine ignored the screams and made everything masculine. Why did it throw the sentence’s most crucial information away?

We humans know all sorts of things about couples, houses, personal possessions, pride, rivalry, jealousy, privacy, and many other intangibles that lead to such quirks as a married couple having towels embroidered his and hers . Google Translate isn’t familiar with such situations. Google Translate isn’t familiar with situations, period. It’s familiar solely with strings composed of words composed of letters. It’s all about ultra-rapid processing of pieces of text, not about thinking or imagining or remembering or understanding. It doesn’t even know that words stand for things. Let me hasten to say that a computer program certainly could , in principle, know what language is for, and could have ideas and memories and experiences, and could put them to use, but that’s not what Google Translate was designed to do. Such an ambition wasn’t even on its designers’ radar screens.

Well, I chuckled at these poor shows, relieved to see that we aren’t, after all, so close to replacing human translators by automata. But I still felt I should check the engine out more closely. After all, one swallow does not thirst quench.

Indeed, what about this freshly coined phrase, “One swallow does not thirst quench” (alluding, of course, to, “One swallow does not a summer make”)? I couldn’t resist trying it out; here’s what Google Translate flipped back at me: “ Une hirondelle n’aspire pas la soif. ” This is a grammatical French sentence, but it’s pretty hard to fathom. First it names a certain bird ( une hirondelle —“a swallow”), then it says this bird is “not inhaling” or “not sucking” (“ n’aspire pas ”), and finally it reveals that the neither-inhaled-nor-sucked item is thirst (“ la soif ”). Clearly Google Translate didn’t catch my meaning; it merely came out with a heap of bull. “ Il sortait simplement avec un tas de taureau .” “He just went out with a pile of bulls.” “ Il vient de sortir avec un tas de taureaux .” Please pardon my French—or rather, Google Translate’s pseudo-French.

From the frying pan of French, let’s jump into the fire of German. Of late I’ve been engrossed in the book Sie nannten sich der Wiener Kreis (“They Called Themselves the Vienna Circle”), by the Austrian mathematician Karl Sigmund. It describes a group of idealistic Viennese intellectuals in the 1920s and ’30s who had a major impact on philosophy and science during the rest of the century. I chose a short passage from Sigmund’s book and gave it to Google Translate. Here it is, first in German, followed by my own translation, and then Google Translate’s version. (By the way, I checked my translation with two native speakers of German, including Karl Sigmund, so I think you can assume it is accurate.)

Nach dem verlorenen Krieg sahen es viele deutschnationale Professoren, inzwischen die Mehrheit in der Fakultät, gewissermaßen als ihre Pflicht an, die Hochschulen vor den “Ungeraden” zu bewahren; am schutzlosesten waren junge Wissenschaftler vor ihrer Habilitation. Und Wissenschaftlerinnen kamen sowieso nicht in frage; über wenig war man sich einiger.


After the defeat, many professors with Pan-Germanistic leanings, who by that time constituted the majority of the faculty, considered it pretty much their duty to protect the institutions of higher learning from “undesirables.” The most likely to be dismissed were young scholars who had not yet earned the right to teach university classes. As for female scholars, well, they had no place in the system at all; nothing was clearer than that.

Google Translate:

After the lost war, many German-National professors, meanwhile the majority in the faculty, saw themselves as their duty to keep the universities from the “odd”; Young scientists were most vulnerable before their habilitation. And scientists did not question anyway; There were few of them.

The words in Google Translate’s output are all English words (even if, for unclear reasons, a couple are inappropriately capitalized). So far, so good! But soon it grows wobbly, and the further down you go, the wobblier it gets.

I’ll focus first on “the ‘odd.’” This corresponds to the German die “ Ungeraden ,” which here means “politically undesirable people.” Google Translate, however, had a reason—a very simple statistical reason—for choosing the word odd . Namely, in its huge bilingual database, the word ungerade was almost always translated as “odd.” Although the engine didn’t realize why this was the case, I can tell you why. It’s because ungerade —which literally means “un-straight” or “uneven”—is nearly always defined as “not divisible by two.” By contrast, my choice of “undesirables” to render Ungeraden had nothing to do with the statistics of words, but came from my understanding of the situation—from my zeroing in on a notion not explicitly mentioned in the text and certainly not listed as a translation of ungerade in any of my German dictionaries.

Let’s move on to the German Habilitation , denoting a university status resembling tenure. The English cognate word habilitation exists but it is super rare, and certainly doesn’t bring to mind tenure or anything like it. That’s why I briefly explained the idea rather than just quoting the obscure word, because that mechanical gesture would not get anything across to anglophonic readers. Of course Google Translate would never do anything like this, because it has no model of its readers’ knowledge.

The last two sentences really bring out how crucial understanding is for translation. The 15-letter German noun Wissenschaftler means either “scientist” or “scholar.” (I opted for the latter, because in this context it was referring to intellectuals in general. Google Translate didn’t get that subtlety.) The related 17-letter noun Wissenschaftlerin , found in the closing sentence in its plural form Wissenschaftlerinnen , is a consequence of the gendered-ness of German nouns. Whereas the “short” noun is grammatically masculine and thus suggests a male scholar, the longer noun is feminine and applies to females only. I wrote “female scholar” to get the idea across. Google Translate, however, did not understand that the feminizing suffix “-in” was the central focus of attention in the final sentence. Because it didn’t realize that females were being singled out, the engine merely reused the word scientist , thus missing the sentence’s entire point. As in the earlier French case, Google Translate didn’t have the foggiest idea that the sole purpose of the German sentence was to shine a spotlight on a contrast between males and females.

Aside from that blunder, the rest of the final sentence is a disaster. Take its first half. Is “scientists did not question anyway” really a translation of “ Wissenschaftlerinnen kamen sowieso nicht in frage ”? It doesn’t mean what the original means—it’s not even in the same ballpark. It just consists of English words haphazardly triggered by the German words. Is that all it takes for a piece of output to deserve the label translation ?

The sentence’s second half is equally erroneous. The last six German words mean, literally, “over little was one more united,” or, more flowingly, “There was little about which people were more in agreement,” yet Google Translate managed to turn that perfectly clear idea into “There were few of them.” We baffled humans might ask “Few of what ?” but to the mechanical listener, such a question would be meaningless. Google Translate doesn’t have ideas behind the scenes, so it couldn’t even begin to answer the simple-seeming query. The translation engine was not imagining large or small amounts or numbers of things. It was just throwing symbols around, without any notion that they might symbolize something.

It’s hard for a human, with a lifetime of experience and understanding and of using words in a meaningful way, to realize how devoid of content all the words thrown onto the screen by Google Translate are. It’s almost irresistible for people to presume that a piece of software that deals so fluently with words must surely know what they mean. This classic illusion associated with artificial-intelligence programs is called the ELIZA effect, because one of the first programs to pull the wool over people’s eyes with its seeming understanding of English, back in the ’60s, was a vacuous phrase manipulator called ELIZA, which pretended to be a psychotherapist, and as such, gave many people who interacted with it the eerie sensation that it deeply understood their innermost feelings.

For decades, sophisticated people—even some artificial-intelligence researchers—have fallen for the ELIZA effect. To make sure that my readers steer clear of this trap, let me quote some phrases from a few paragraphs up—namely, “Google Translate did not understand , ” “it did not realize,” and “Google Translate didn’t have the foggiest idea . ” Paradoxically, these phrases, despite harping on the lack of understanding, almost suggest that Google Translate might at least sometimes be capable of understanding what a word or a phrase or a sentence means, or is about. But that isn’t the case. Google Translate is all about bypassing or circumventing the act of understanding language.

To me, the word translation exudes a mysterious and evocative aura. It denotes a profoundly human art form that graciously carries clear ideas in Language A into clear ideas in Language B, and the bridging act should not only maintain clarity but also give a sense for the flavor, quirks, and idiosyncrasies of the writing style of the original author. Whenever I translate, I first read the original text carefully and internalize the ideas as clearly as I can, letting them slosh back and forth in my mind. It’s not that the words of the original are sloshing back and forth; it’s the ideas that are triggering all sorts of related ideas, creating a rich halo of related scenarios in my mind. Needless to say, most of this halo is unconscious. Only when the halo has been evoked sufficiently in my mind do I start to try to express it—to “press it out”—in the second language. I try to say in Language B what strikes me as a natural B-ish way to talk about the kinds of situations that constitute the halo of meaning in question.

I am not , in short, moving straight from words and phrases in Language A to words and phrases in Language B. Instead, I am unconsciously conjuring up images, scenes, and ideas, dredging up experiences I myself have had (or have read about, or seen in movies, or heard from friends), and only when this nonverbal, imagistic, experiential, mental “halo” has been realized—only when the elusive bubble of meaning is floating in my brain—do I start the process of formulating words and phrases in the target language, and then revising, revising, and revising. This process, mediated via meaning , may sound sluggish, and indeed, in comparison with Google Translate’s two or three seconds a page, it certainly is—but it is what any serious human translator does. This is the kind of thing I imagine when I hear an evocative phrase like deep mind .

That said, I turn now to Chinese, a language that gave the deep-learning software a far rougher ride than the two European languages did. For my test material, I drew from the touching memoir Women Sa (“We Three”), written by the Chinese playwright and translator Yang Jiang, who recently died at 104. Her book recounts the intertwined lives of herself; her husband, Qian Zhongshu (also a novelist and translator), and their daughter. It is not written in an especially arcane manner, but it uses an educated, lively Chinese. I chose a short passage and let Google Translate loose on it. Here are the results, along with my own translation (again vetted by native speakers of Chinese):

锺书到清华工作一年后,调任毛选翻译委员会的工作,住在城里,周末回校。 他仍兼管研究生。 毛选翻译委员会的领导是徐永煐同志。介绍锺书做这份工作的是清华同学乔冠华同志。 事定之日,晚饭后,有一位旧友特雇黄包车从城里赶来祝贺。客去后,锺书惶恐地对我说: 他以为我要做“南书房行走”了。这件事不是好做的,不求有功,但求无过。
After Zhongshu had worked at Tsinghua University for a year, he was transferred to the committee that was translating selected works of Chairman Mao. He lived in the city, but each weekend he would return to school. He also was still supervising his graduate students. The leader of the translation committee of Mao’s works was Comrade Xu Yongying, and the person who had arranged for Zhongshu to do this work was his old Tsinghua schoolmate, Comrade Qiao Guanhua. On the day this appointment was decided, after dinner, an old friend specially hired a rickshaw and came all the way from the city just to congratulate Zhongshu. After our guest had left, Zhongshu turned to me uneasily and said: “He thought I was going to become a ‘South Study special aide.’ This kind of work is not easy. You can’t hope for glory; all you can hope for is to do it without errors.”
After a year of work at Tsinghua, he was transferred to the Mao Translating Committee to live in the city and back to school on weekends. He is still a graduate student. The leadership of the Mao Tse Translation Committee is Comrade Xu Yongjian. Introduction to the book to do this work is Tsinghua students Qiao Guanhua comrades. On the day of the event, after dinner, an old friend hired a rickshaw from the city to congratulate. Guest to go, the book of fear in the book said to me: He thought I had to do “South study walking.” This is not a good thing to do, not for meritorious service, but for nothing.

I’ll briefly point out a few oddities. First of all, Google Translate never refers to Zhongshu by name, although his name (“锺书”) occurs three times in the original. The first time, the engine uses the pronoun he ; the second time around, it says “the book”; the third time, it says “the book of fear in the book.” Go figure!

A second oddity is that the first paragraph clearly says that Zhongshu is supervising graduate students, whereas Google Translate turns him into a graduate student.

A third oddity is that in the phrase Mao Tse Translation Committee , one-third of Chairman Mao Tse Tung’s name fell off the train.

A fourth oddity is that the name “Yongying” was replaced by “Yongjian.”

A fifth oddity is that “after our guest had left” was reduced to “guest to go.”

A sixth oddity is that the last sentence makes no sense at all.

Well, these six oddities are already quite a bit of humble pie for Google Translate to swallow, but let’s forgive and forget. Instead, I’ll focus on just one confusing phrase I ran into—a five-character phrase in quotation marks in the last paragraph (“南书房行走”). Character for character, it might be rendered as “south book room go walk,” but that jumble is clearly unacceptable, especially because the context requires it to be a noun. Google Translate invented “South study walking,” which is not helpful.

Now, I admit that the Chinese phrase was utterly opaque to me. Although literally it looked like it meant something about moving about on foot in a study on the south side of some building, I knew that couldn’t be right; it made no sense in the context. To translate it, I had to find out about something in Chinese culture that I was ignorant of. So where did I turn for help? To Google! (But not to Google Translate.) I typed in the Chinese characters, surrounded them with quote marks, then did a Google search for that exact literal string. Lickety-split, up came a bunch of webpages in Chinese, and then I painfully slogged my way through the opening paragraphs of the first couple of websites, trying to figure out what the phrase was all about.

I discovered the term dates back to the Qing dynasty (1644–1911) and refers to an intellectual assistant to the emperor, whose duty was to help the emperor (in the imperial palace’s south study) stylishly craft official statements. The two characters that seem to mean “go walk” actually form a chunk denoting an aide. And so, given that information supplied by Google Search, I came up with my phrase “South Study special aide.”

It’s too bad Google Translate couldn’t avail itself of the services of Google Search as I did, isn’t it? But then again, Google Translate can’t understand webpages, although it can translate them in the twinkling of an eye. Or can it? Below I exhibit the astounding piece of output text that Google Translate super swiftly spattered across my screen after being fed the opening of the website that I got my info from:

“South study walking” is not an official position, before the Qing era this is just a “messenger,” generally by the then imperial intellectuals Hanlin to serve as. South study in the Hanlin officials in the “select chencai only goods and excellent” into the value, called “South study walking.” Because of the close to the emperor, the emperor’s decision to have a certain influence. Yongzheng later set up “military aircraft,” the Minister of the military machine, full-time, although the study is still Hanlin into the value, but has no participation in government affairs. Scholars in the Qing Dynasty into the value of the South study proud. Many scholars and scholars in the early Qing Dynasty into the south through the study.

Is this actually in English ? Of course we all agree that it’s made of English words (for the most part, anyway), but does that imply that it’s a passage in English? To my mind, because the above paragraph contains no meaning, it’s not in English; it’s just a jumble made of English ingredients —a random-word salad, an incoherent hodgepodge.

In case you’re curious, here’s my version of the same passage (it took me hours):

The nan-shufang-xingzou (“South Study special aide”) was not an official position, but in the early Qing dynasty it was a special role generally filled by whoever was the emperor’s current intellectual academician. The group of academicians who worked in the imperial palace’s south study would choose, among themselves, someone of great talent and good character to serve as ghostwriter for the emperor, and always to be at the emperor’s beck and call; that is why this role was called “South Study special aide.” The South Study aide, being so close to the emperor, was clearly in a position to influence the latter’s policy decisions. However, after Emperor Yongzheng established an official military ministry with a minister and various lower positions, the South Study aide, despite still being in the service of the emperor, no longer played a major role in governmental decision making. Nonetheless, Qing dynasty scholars were eager for the glory of working in the emperor’s south study, and during the early part of that dynasty, quite a few famous scholars served the emperor as South Study special aides.

Some readers may suspect that I, in order to bash Google Translate, cherry-picked passages on which it stumbled terribly, and that it actually does far better on the large majority of passages. Though that sounds plausible, it’s not the case. Nearly every paragraph I selected from books I’m currently reading gave rise to translation blunders of all shapes and sizes, including senseless and incomprehensible phrases, as above.

Of course I grant that Google Translate sometimes comes up with a series of output sentences that sound fine (although they may be misleading or utterly wrong). A whole paragraph or two may come out superbly, giving the illusion that Google Translate knows what it is doing, understands what it is “reading.” In such cases, Google Translate seems truly impressive—almost human! Praise is certainly due to its creators and their collective hard work. But at the same time, don’t forget what Google Translate did with these two Chinese passages, and with the earlier French and German passages. To understand such failures, one has to keep the ELIZA effect in mind. The bai-lingual engine isn’t reading anything—not in the normal human sense of the verb “to read.” It’s processing text . The symbols it’s processing are disconnected from experiences in the world. It has no memories on which to draw, no imagery, no understanding, no meaning residing behind the words it so rapidly flings around.

A friend asked me whether Google Translate’s level of skill isn’t merely a function of the program’s database. He figured that if you multiplied the database by a factor of, say, a million or a billion, eventually it would be able to translate anything thrown at it, and essentially perfectly. I don’t think so. Having ever more “big data” won’t bring you any closer to understanding, because understanding involves having ideas , and lack of ideas is the root of all the problems for machine translation today. So I would venture that bigger databases—even much bigger ones—won’t turn the trick.

Another natural question is whether Google Translate’s use of neural networks—a gesture toward imitating brains—is bringing us closer to genuine understanding of language by machines. This sounds plausible at first, but there’s still no attempt being made to go beyond the surface level of words and phrases. All sorts of statistical facts about the huge databases are embodied in the neural nets, but these statistics merely relate words to other words, not to ideas. There’s no attempt to create internal structures that could be thought of as ideas, images, memories, or experiences. Such mental etherealities are still far too elusive to deal with computationally, and so, as a substitute, fast and sophisticated statistical word-clustering algorithms are used. But the results of such techniques are no match for actually having ideas involved as one reads, understands, creates, modifies, and judges a piece of writing.

Despite my negativism, Google Translate offers a service many people value highly: It effects quick-and-dirty conversions of meaningful passages written in Language A into not necessarily meaningful strings of words in Language B. As long as the text in Language B is somewhat comprehensible, many people feel perfectly satisfied with the end product. If they can “get the basic idea” of a passage in a language they don’t know, they’re happy. This isn’t what I personally think the word translation means, but to some people it’s a great service, and to them it qualifies as translation. Well, I can see what they want, and I understand that they’re happy. Lucky them!

Recommended Reading

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The Man Who Would Teach Machines to Think

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When Computers Started Beating Chess Champions

A man slumps in defeat over a Go board.

The AI That Has Nothing to Learn From Humans

I’ve recently seen bar graphs made by technophiles that claim to represent the “quality” of translations done by humans and by computers, and these graphs depict the latest translation engines as being within striking distance of human-level translation. To me, however, such quantification of the unquantifiable reeks of pseudoscience, or, if you prefer, of nerds trying to mathematize things whose intangible, subtle, artistic nature eludes them. To my mind, Google Translate’s output today ranges all the way from excellent to grotesque, but I can’t quantify my feelings about it. Think of my first example involving “his” and “her” items. The idealess program got nearly all the words right, but despite that slight success, it totally missed the point. How, in such a case, should one “quantify” the quality of the job? The use of scientific-looking bar graphs to represent translation quality is simply an abuse of the external trappings of science.

Let me return to that sad image of human translators, soon outdone and outmoded, gradually turning into nothing but quality controllers and text tweakers. That’s a recipe for mediocrity at best. A serious artist doesn’t start with a kitschy piece of error-ridden bilgewater and then patch it up here and there to produce a work of high art. That’s not the nature of art. And translation is an art.

In my writings throughout the years, I’ve always maintained that the human brain is a machine—a very complicated kind of machine—and I’ve vigorously opposed those who say that machines are intrinsically incapable of dealing with meaning. There is even a school of philosophers who claim computers could never “have semantics” because they’re made of “the wrong stuff” (silicon). To me, that’s facile nonsense. I won’t touch that debate here, but I wouldn’t want to leave readers with the impression that I believe intelligence and understanding to be forever inaccessible to computers. If in this essay I seem to come across as sounding that way, it’s because the technology I’ve been discussing makes no attempt to reproduce human intelligence. Quite the contrary: It attempts to make an end run around human intelligence, and the output passages exhibited above clearly reveal its giant lacunas.

From my point of view, there is no fundamental reason that machines could not, in principle, someday think; be creative, funny, nostalgic, excited, frightened, ecstatic, resigned, hopeful, and, as a corollary, able to translate admirably between languages. There’s no fundamental reason that machines might not someday succeed smashingly in translating jokes, puns, screenplays, novels, poems, and, of course, essays like this one. But all that will come about only when machines are as filled with ideas, emotions, and experiences as human beings are. And that’s not around the corner. Indeed, I believe it is still extremely far away. At least that is what this lifelong admirer of the human mind’s profundity fervently hopes.

When, one day, a translation engine writes an artistic novel in verse in English, using precise rhyming iambic tetrameter rich in wit, pathos, and sonic verve, then I’ll know it’s time for me to tip my hat and bow out.

* This article originally misstated the number of languages for which the deep-learning version of Google Translate is available. We regret the error.

google translate in essay

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Have a Foreign Language Love Affair This Summer

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By Mark Vanhoenacker

Mr. Vanhoenacker is an airline pilot and an author.

One morning late last autumn, I took off from London’s Heathrow Airport, my base as a Boeing 787 pilot , and landed the next morning at Haneda Airport in Tokyo. By early afternoon I was walking under the turning foliage of Rikugien , one of my favorite gardens, where I paused by a wooden sign at the edge of a stream. Despite having studied Japanese for years, the text on the sign — something about slippery stones ahead — included several characters I didn’t recognize, so I fired up an app I’d recently discovered. It scanned and translated all of them instantly.

Such tools — and others that can translate speech — are astonishing. But with this magic at our fingertips, is the study of foreign languages now pointless?

Not at all. In fact, foreign languages are more rewarding than ever, in part because technology has made them easier than ever to learn.

My love of languages began in childhood. When I was growing up in rural Western Massachusetts, foreign languages were inseparable from the wonder I associated with globes and maps and with the graceful airliners I dreamed of someday flying to distant places. I learned some French and Dutch from my Belgian father and studied Spanish in high school. The language I really fell for, though, is Japanese, which I first studied during a summer home stay in Kanazawa.

The world has changed a lot since the summer of 1991. But there are still reasons for us to invest in foreign language studies. Despite the global pre-eminence of English and the growing sophistication of translation tools, U.S. businesses and government agencies have an unmet need for language skills. Yet as of 2017, only about one-fifth of K-12 students studied a foreign language, and enrollment in U.S. college foreign language classes dropped by almost one-third between 2009 and 2021. These gaps mean that career opportunities are plentiful for language learners, both at home and abroad.

It’s true that many English speakers don’t need language skills to travel these days, especially with smartphones that can translate a menu (or even what a waiter is saying) in real time. But few people would argue that the existence of calculators means we needn’t study math. Language learning is associated with enhanced memory, creativity and concentration. It boosts overall academic performance and may also delay neurological decline as you age. For all of us, language learning is a gym for the brain .

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WhatsApp's auto-translate feature may not adopt Google tech after all

Published on July 18, 2024

WhatsApp logo on smartphone next to everyday accessories Stock photo 1

  • A previous report suggested that WhatsApp may implement Google’s Live Translate feature into individual and group chats.
  • It now appears that WhatsApp is actually developing its own on-device translate feature and won’t rely on third parties.
  • The service is also rolling out a handy ‘favorites’ filter for chats and calls, making it easier to contact chosen people.

WhatsApp is the default messaging app in many regions, connecting users to family, friends, and even businesses. As the service continues to grow, Meta has been looking into ways to further enrich its offerings. Recently, a report indicated that WhatsApp may integrate Google’s Live Translate technology in a future update. It turns out that the company could instead be building its in-house translator to avoid relying on third-party companies.

WhatsApp automatic translation feature in Android app

WABetaInfo has shared in a new post that their original reporting was inaccurate. Instead of adopting Google Live Translate, WhatsApp is building its own translation tool. The feature will reportedly require users to download an additional package upon activation, as it will rely on on-device processing and won’t send users’ messages to the cloud.

According to the report, WhatsApp’s translation feature will initially work with English, Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese (Brazil), Russian, and Hindi. When toggled, it should automatically translate all texts in a particular chat. This would spare users the need to copy and paste messages and hop between different apps when communicating with foreigners.

WhatsApp favorite filter feature on Android

Beyond that, WhatsApp announced that it’s rolling out a new ‘favorites’ filter to all users on the latest version of the app. This addition allows you to favorite people in the app to contact them more easily. In the calls tab, favorites get pinned to the top, while a dedicated filter in the chats section allows you to hide non-favorited people.

It’s worth noting that WhatsApp’s translation feature is still under development and may never see the light of day. Meanwhile, the favoriting option is rolling out gradually and will be available to everyone in the coming weeks.

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Google’s Now Translating SERPs Into More Languages

Google announced they're translating search results into 8 more languages, giving publishers an opportunity to increase traffic globally

google translate in essay

Google updated their documentation to reflect that it added eight new languages to its translated results feature, broadening the reach of publishers to an increasingly global scale, with automatic  translations to a site visitor’s native language.

Google Translated Results

Translated Results is a Google Search feature that will automatically translate the title link and meta description into the local language of a user, making a website published in one language available to a searcher in another language. If the searcher clicks on the link of a translated result the web page itself will also be automatically translated.

According to Google’s documentation for this feature:

“Google doesn’t host any translated pages. Opening a page through a translated result is no different than opening the original search result through Google Translate or using Chrome in-browser translation. This means that JavaScript on the page is usually supported, as well as embedded images and other page features.”

This feature benefits publishers because it makes their website available to a larger audience.

Search Feature Available In More Languages

Google’s documentation for this feature was updated to reflect that it is now available in eight more languages.

Users who speak the following languages will now have automatic access to a broader range of websites.

List Of Added Languages

Why did it take so long.

It seems odd that Google didn’t already translate results into so many major languages like Turkish, Arabic or Korean. So I asked international SEO expert Christopher Shin ( LinkedIn profile ) about why it might have taken so long for Google to do this in the Korean language.

Christopher shared:

Google was always facing difficulties in the South Korean market as a search engine, and that has to do mainly with Naver and Kakao, formerly known as Daum. But the whole paradigm shift to Google began when more and more students that went abroad to where Google is the dominant search engine came back to South Korea. When more and more students, travelers abroad etc., returned to Korea, they started to realize the strengths and weaknesses of the local search portals and the information capabilities these local portals provided. Laterally, more and more businesses in South Korea like Samsung, Hyundai etc., started to also shift marketing and sales to global markets, so the importance of Google as a tool for companies was also becoming more important with the domestic population. Naver is still the dominant search portal, but not to retrieve answers to specific queries, rather for the purpose of shopping, reviews etc. So I believe that market prioritization may be a big part as to the delayed introduction of Translated Google Search Results. And in terms of numbers, Korea is smaller with only roughly 52M nationwide and continues to decline due to poor birth rates. Another big factor as I see it, has to do with the complexity of the Korean language which would make it more challenging to build out a translation tool that only replicates a simple English version. We use the modern Korean Hangeul but also the country uses Hanja, which are words from the Chinese origin. I used to have my team use Google Translate until all of them complained that Naver’s Papago does a better job, but with the introduction of ChatGPT, the competitiveness offered by Google was slim.”

It’s not an understatement to say that 2024 has not been a good year for publishers, from the introduction of AI Overviews to the 2024 Core Algorithm Update, and missing image thumbnails on recipe blogger sites, there hasn’t been much good news coming out of Google. But this news is different because it creates the opportunity for publisher content to be shown in even more languages than ever.

Read the updated documentation here:

Translated results in Google Search

Featured Image by Shutterstock/baranq

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Translate documents or write in a different language

You can translate documents into many languages  with Google Docs.

Translate a document

  • On your computer, open a document in Google Docs .

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  • Enter a name for the translated document and select a language.
  • Click Translate .
  • A translated copy of your document will open in a new window. You can also see this copy in your Google Drive .

Tip : If 'Translate document' isn't visible, you're likely in Microsoft Office editing. To translate, convert your file to Google Docs. Learn about Microsoft Office editing and  how to convert Microsoft Office files .

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google translate in essay

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    google translate in essay

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  3. Copy and paste your essay into Google Translate...

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  5. Writing an essay? Copy and paste it into Google translate and have them

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  6. When You're Finished with an Essay, Copy and Paste it into Google

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  1. Google Translate

    Google's service, offered free of charge, instantly translates words, phrases, and web pages between English and over 100 other languages.

  2. Translate documents & websites

    In your browser, go to Google Translate. At the top, click Documents. Choose the languages to translate to and from. To automatically set the original language of a document, click Detect language. Click Browse your computer. Select the file you want to translate. Click Translate and wait for the document to finish translating.

  3. Translate documents or write in a different language

    Click Translate. A translated copy of your document will open in a new window. You can also see this copy in your Google Drive. Tip: If "Translate document" isn't visible, you're likely in Microsoft Office editing. To translate, convert your file to Google Docs. Learn about Microsoft Office editing and how to convert Microsoft Office files.

  4. Translate written words

    On your computer, open Google Translate.; At the top of the screen, select the languages to translate. From: Choose a language or select Detect language . To: Select the language that you want the translation in. In the text box on the left, enter the text you want to translate.

  5. How to Use Google Translate for Text, Images, and Real-time ...

    For text: Select a language > Tap to enter text > begin typing > Enter. For spoken word: Select a language > tap the mic > begin speaking at the beep. Tap the Speaker icon to hear the translation.; For conversations: Select a language > tap Conversation > begin speaking.Watch the screen for the translation.

  6. Free Online Translator

    Do you need to translate your documents into multiple languages without losing the original layout? Try Free Online Translator, a service that supports PDF, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OpenOffice, text and more. You can choose from over 60 languages, including English, Spanish, French, German, Chinese, Arabic and more.

  7. Effective Use of Google Translate in Writing

    Keywords: Google Translate (GT), writing, teac hers' perception. 1. INTRODUCTION . In the writing pro cess, students sometimes need to . ... essay writing difficulties and sources: a move ...

  8. Google Translate: Case Study

    According to Anggaira and Hadi (2017), Google Translate is an inadequate tool for the purpose, mainly when translating less common languages. The software tends to commit numerous morphological and syntax mistakes, and a human language expert should analyze the output to fix errors and correct misinterpreted passages.

  9. Language Translator: Accurate and Fast Translations

    Instantly translate texts, phrases, and documents with QuillBot's AI translator. Accurate and efficient AI-powered translations in over 45 languages.

  10. The Pros and Cons of Google Translate

    Still, many students go ahead and put their English essays into the online machine in order to get their nicely translated Spanish essay out to turn in to the teacher. The only problem is that most teachers can tell when a student has used an online translator like Google Translate since more often than not, the translation is inaccurate and ...

  11. Google Scholar

    Google Scholar provides a simple way to broadly search for scholarly literature. Search across a wide variety of disciplines and sources: articles, theses, books, abstracts and court opinions.

  12. DeepL Translate: The world's most accurate translator

    Drag and drop to translate PDF, Word (.docx), and PowerPoint (.pptx) files with our document translator. Type or paste text to translate. Translation results. Dictionary. The dictionary is unavailable for this language pair. Unlock DeepL's full potential - Try DeepL Pro for free

  13. Is it ethical to use Google Translate in Academic Research?

    Google Translate (or any other similar tool) is a computer-generated tool that is widely known to make large errors. It is impossible to translate languages word-for-word but that is essentially what Google Translate tries to do. As of now, only humans can provide accurate translations.

  14. Translate documents from English to Spanish

    Translate English documents to Spanish in multiple office formats (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, PDF, OpenOffice, text) by simply uploading them into our free online translator

  15. Is it plagiarism to use Google Translate?

    As a French teacher, I agree 100% with D Nappo. I have just finished reading final essays by 11th grade students (level III Honors) who are to be writing in their best French and a number of them turned in glowing compositions more typical of a college student's writing or beyond (despite numerous discussions, examples, documentation in the ...

  16. The Shallowness of Google Translate

    Google Translate, however, did not understand that the feminizing suffix "-in" was the central focus of attention in the final sentence. ... If in this essay I seem to come across as sounding ...

  17. DeepL's next-gen LLM outperforms ChatGPT-4, Google ...

    Our next-generation model will help your enterprise get even more value from DeepL. In fact, blind tests also found that DeepL's translations require fewer edits than competitors, with Google Translate needing 2x more edits and ChatGPT-4 needing 3x more edits to achieve the same quality.

  18. Opinion

    Guest Essay. Have a Foreign Language Love Affair This Summer. July 21, 2024. ... Page 8 of the New York edition with the headline: What Google Translate Can't Give Us. Order Reprints | Today's ...

  19. Google Translate May Soon Be Integrated into WhatsApp

    Integration of Google Translate to WhatsApp. In the latest Android beta, WABetaInfo discovered WhatsApp's plan to integrate Google's Live Translate into chats. This feature would allow users ...

  20. WhatsApp's auto-translate feature may not adopt Google tech

    A previous report suggested that WhatsApp may implement Google's Live Translate feature into individual and group chats. It now appears that WhatsApp is actually developing its own on-device ...

  21. DeepL Write: AI-powered writing companion

    DeepL Write is a tool that helps you perfect your writing. Write clearly, precisely, with ease, and without errors. Try for free now!

  22. Paraphrasing Tool (Ad-Free and No Sign-up Required)

    Our rewording tool is free and easy to use—with just the click of a button, the paraphrasing tool will rephrase your sentence, paragraph, essay, or article to your liking, with many options available to customize and perfect the reworded text.

  23. Getting to Comic-Con: What's New for 2024?

    Getting Around Maps & Schedules, Trip Planner, Departures & Real-Time, Alerts & Detours, Service Notices, Airport

  24. Free Grammar Checker (no sign-up required)

    🪄 AI-powered Instantly corrects grammatical errors: Checks Grammar, spelling & punctuation: 📣 English dialects US, UK, CA & AU: ️️ Other languages: German, French, Spanish, Portuguese (Brazilian), German (Swiss) & Dutch

  25. Google's Now Translating SERPs Into More Languages

    Google announced they're translating search results into 8 more languages, giving publishers an opportunity to increase traffic globally

  26. Google Translate

    Google Translate offers free instant translation of words, phrases, and web pages between English and over 100 other languages.

  27. Translate documents from English to Chinese (Simplified)

    Translate English documents to Chinese (Simplified) in multiple office formats (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, PDF, OpenOffice, text) by simply uploading them into our free online translator

  28. LPT: Writing an essay? Copy and paste it into Google Translate ...

    If I typed what I put in my essay, it'll just turn into garbled words. Better yet, you could have a friend read it (and proof-read) and you can listen for anything that sounds like it doesn't belong. Google Translate is a good alternative if you don't have someone else with you.

  29. Translate documents or write in a different language

    Change your typing language. On your computer, open a document in Google Docs, a presentation in Google Slides or a sheet in Google Sheets.. In Google Docs or Google Slides, go to the top menu and click File Language the language that you need.; In Google Sheets, go to the top menu and click File Spreadsheet settings, then pick the locale of the language that you need.

  30. Air Conservation Commission, Settlement Report, July 25, 2024

    By selecting a language from the Google Translate menu, the user accepts the legal implications of any misinterpretations or differences in the translation. As Google's translation is an automated service it may display interpretations that are an approximation of the website's original content.