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Why You Can’t Rely on Google Translate

Graphic: Why You Can't Rely on Google Translate.

Technology can do amazing things, but when it comes to machine translation, there's still a long way to go. Make sure your sensitive communications (like healthcare, financial services, and government) are culturally aware and contextually accurate.

When Google Translate launched in 2006, it promised free and relatively easy online translation — just input text into the platform and select the languages you'd like to translate it to and from. The program originally took information from United Nations and European Parliament documents to build its database. Since then, it has used artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve its translations.

Google even boasted in recent years about the expansion of its translation services from just three languages to more than 100. Unfortunately, there are many reasons why this (and other free online translation services) simply can't measure up in comparison to professional translation services.

In a recent study that evaluated 400 emergency department discharge instructions, it was found that Google Translate's accuracy varied between languages. For example, Farsi and Armenian measured only 67% and 55% accuracy, respectively. Even more common languages like Chinese were found to have discrepancies. An instruction for a patient taking Coumadin read, “Your Coumadin level was too high today. Do not take any more Coumadin until your doctor reviews the results.” It was translated into Chinese as “Your soybean level was too high today. Do not take any more soybeans until your doctor reviews the results.”

It's these seemingly small errors that can cause major miscommunication between caregivers and patients. Here are the top reasons why a professional linguist should be involved in your health system's translation needs:

1.  Software Alone Can't Replace Human Translation

Machine learning and AI have undoubtedly come a long way over the last few decades. They might even seem like a cost-effective way to speed up translation. But in settings such as business, healthcare, and legal, there are several reasons why professional human translators will continue to exceed the limits of tools like Google Translate.

  • Context. Many languages have words with more than one meaning, so context is very important to the accuracy of the translation. For example, the word record can mean a record of something (such as a historical record), or it can mean to record something. A professional translator has the ability to identify the context based on what they know about the conversation and select the correct word for translation.
  • Local slang. The way people use words varies, even regionally or locally in the same language. Unlike Google Translate, professional, qualified interpreters will know both English and foreign language vocabularies typically used in formal, consultative, and casual modes of communication in various contexts, including colloquial slang, idiosyncratic slang, and regionalisms.
  • Tone and style. Machines translate the literal words that you input, but there are a lot of other nuances to language. Facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language can all be part of accurate translation. Computers will miss these things.
  • Complexity. A professional translator can also provide explanations in complex situations where accuracy is critical. For example, using a medically qualified interpreter who can explain healthcare diagnoses and treatment options with a level of professional understanding and care. In healthcare and legal settings, this level of communication can be the difference between life and death or freedom and punishment.

2.  Confidentiality Is Not Guaranteed

It shouldn't surprise anyone that what you do in Google is not private, and that includes translation services. Google doesn't sign an NDA or a BAA to protect patient health information as required by HIPAA laws. Companies translating sensitive financial, legal, medical, or business documents should never use free online tools. The legal implications could be far-reaching and much more costly than just paying for professional translation services.


3.  Inability for Transcreation and Localization

Transcreation and localization are critical aspects of professional translation services. In a nutshell, this means catering a message to the local culture and the local audience. It might not always be a word-for-word translation, but the end result will be more accurate and better at conveying your actual meaning. This level of translation requires more than a large database of words — you need someone with local knowledge of language and culture involved in the translation.


4.  Proofing and Editing Goes Out the Window

If your organization is relying on translation tools, it's because you do not understand the other language. That means no one on your team will be able to check the accuracy of the translation that comes out. Best-case scenario, it could be completely nonsensical gibberish that will make you look unprofessional. In the worst-case scenario, errors in the translation could lead to serious negative consequences for your customers or patients.

You also run the risk of introducing errors if the original (source) text is not entered correctly. For example, if someone on your team mistakenly types in the word "loose" instead of "lose," the translation changes completely; Google Translate won't know to correct it.

A professional translator who is fluent in two languages can help with proofreading and editing. In some situations, they may also be able to recommend specific words or phrases that don't translate well to the other language or that have a different meaning but work better.


The Perfect Match: Machine + Human

While a free online tool isn't going to give you the level of quality and accuracy required for critical medical translations, there is a place for combining the technology of machine translation with professional, qualified translators. When paired together, the results can be both timely and accurate.


Professional Translation Benefits Your Business

Healthcare organizations and other essential services should rely on professional and qualified translators, not free online tools. To find out more about the range of translation and transcription services available at GLOBO and how they can work for your organization, request a demo today.

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