Google Translate Bugs

Aug 24, 2012 · 2 min

Ah, machine translation – providing entertainment to human translators for decades now.

Google Translate Bugs

Justin Bieber

For example, if you type the phrase ‘Will Justin Bieber Ever Reach Puberty?’ (or any name; though Justin Bieber adds laughs) and translate it into Vietnamese, then take the Vietnamese translation and have Google turn it back into English, you get ‘Justin Bieber Will Never Reach Puberty’. This is a bit of work, of course, but that’s the point: On the surface machine translations seem to work, but when you dig in deeper, you get mistakes like this.

It’s All English (Apparently)

A slightly more dangerous problem is with language names. If you translate the name of a language to another language, Google tends to render it as ‘English’. For example, translating ‘Deutsch’ from Serbian to German outputs ‘English’. This sort of substitution can cause all sorts of problems, especially since we don’t have the source code to the tool so we can only discover them when we hit them.

Bush - The Only American President

I think something like this is what causes Google’s infamous ‘Bush for Obama’ bug: In online French newspapers such as Le Monde, Google’s automatic translation service turns mentions of ‘le président américain’ into ‘Bush’. George Bush hasn’t been President of the US in four years. Again, this seems humorous, until you consider the potential for havoc in more delicate translation work.

Human Beat Box

Of course, some Google Translate quirks are certainly goofs or Easter Eggs. For example, the Google Human Beat Box! A Human Beat Box is when a talented mimic makes drum machine sounds using just his mouth – you may have seen performers do this when rapping. So, set Google Translate to German for those good glottal stops and use some of the following ‘words’ to get good drum sounds:

zk = suspended cymbal

bschk = snare

pv = brush

bk = bass

tk = flam1

vk = roll tap

kt = flam2

kttp = flam tap

krp = hi hat tap

th = better hi hat

thp, ds = instant rimshot

And The Rest

There are plenty of other jokes – try translating anything into Latin! For the most part, Google’s translation service is useful enough for casual stuff. If you’re just in need of a quick and dirty translation, go for it, and enjoy the occasional quirk that comes through.

Google does seem to be tracking some of these bugs down and removing them, so don’t be surprised if some of these examples no longer work. And remember: If you ever need something important translated, go to a place that employs human beings (may I suggest One Hour Translation?), because we know the American President’s name is Obama.

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