From instant free automated translation to $3000 per day for translation services in one fell swoop! This is what happened to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) of British Columbia in Canada in early August 2010. Following complaint aired by Radio Canada on the 2d of August about the poor quality of the translations performed by Google Translate, complaint followed by the Montreal daily newspaper La Presse, the RCMP BC decided to disconnect the Google Translate function.
Tim Shields, spokesman for the RCMP BC, acknowledged that “Officially and technically the website isn’t compliant with the Official Languages Act.”
Under the Canadian Official Languages Act, federal government agencies – like the RCMP – are legally required to communicate with the public in both English and French, they will know have to hire in-house human translators to perform the job. To ensure uninterrupted delivery of the translation services, they will rely on Public Works Canada, at the cost of $3000 per day.
As a public service, especially as one required by law to provide bilingual service, the RCMP is obligated to provide translation of decent quality and is accountable for the translation services it provides.
This, however, is not the case for businesses that rely on Google Translate to promote their wares. Prospective clients are unlikely to complain about the quality of the automated translation provided to entice them to buy goods or services. They simply vote with their feet or, more precisely in this case, with their finger, and click away to a better phrased website.
The experiment launched by “La Tribune” a French leading business newspaper, in July 2009, to run a multilingual version of its website based of Google Translate services generated some rather comical headlines: “Ryanair loan to make travel of the passengers upright”; “Assets of the continental right in management of the crisis” are just two random example of such titles.
“The quality (of the foreign-language sites) is really mediocre because there is no journalistic intervention,” said one of the La Tribune journalists, who asked not to be named. Worse, he continued, the sites in foreign languages “damage the image of La Tribune,” which in France has a reputation as a serious newspaper aimed at the banking, financial and business world.
The BBC does offer on-lines news in 30 different languages. Unlike the automated translations on La Tribune.fr, the translation quality of the foreign language BBC is immaculate. This might be due to the fact that hundreds of human translators are in charge of providing these translations and very little, if anything, is left for automated translation to do.
“The whole point is that if you want news that has a resonance, you want journalists doing that,” said Mike Gardner, BBC spokesman.
So, whether according to law enforcement bodies or information channels or representative, it seems the Google Translate, despite all his improved algorithms and constant tweaking to perfect its services, is still a far cry from replacing human translators for those who care about their readership.