Which language do you think Google Translate can translate better than any other? Mandarin Chinese, perhaps? Hindustani? Spanish? Arabic? You would be forgiven for assuming that it was one of the world’s most spoken languages. However, a study by Kamusi Project International has found that Afrikaans is the language for which Google Translate delivers the most successful results.
The Kamusi translation project
Kamusi Project International and Kamusi Project USA are the not-for-profit organisations behind Kamusi GOLD – a participatory attempt to provide a dictionary covering every word in every language. Clearly, the Kamusi team doesn’t shy away from large or complex projects!
For the Google Translate project, 102 native speakers were given the same phrases, translated from English into their own language by Google Translate. The company judged the quality of the translations in two ways. The ‘Bard’ score was awarded based on how well the phrases were translated according to human translation quality. The ‘Tarzan’ score was given based on how well the translation conveyed the original intent of the phrases, regardless of its quality.
Translation winners and losers
Of all the languages tested, just 12 scored higher than 50 percent for their Bard result. The best was Afrikaans, followed by German, Portuguese, Spanish, Polish, Chinese, Croatian, Dutch, Galician, Greek, Italian, and Latvian (in that order). 41 languages received a Tarzan score of 50 percent or higher, with Afrikaans once more topping the table.
The study found the greatest losers to be Bengali, Haitian Creole, and Tajik. The translation failed 100 percent of the time for these three languages. Meanwhile, the translation was a failure at least 80 percent of the time for Kurdish, Nepali, Latin, Malaysian, Urdu, Maori, Cebuano, Georgian, Persian, Punjabi, and Uzbek.
A lesson in professional translation
Whether you need an English to Japanese translation for your website or an English to Spanish marketing translation, it can be tempting to try to use machine translation in order to save time. However, as the Kamusi study has shown, the resulting translation is unlikely to be of high enough quality for professional purposes, and may not even convey your meaning at all. Professional human translation remains the only way of assuring you can obtain the translation quality you need.