A personal translator you can take with you on your holidays, that translates every sign or restaurant menu and can also be the interpreter for any conversation. Wouldn’t that be good? I guess that’s what most people think of their translation apps. They install them and they use them everywhere they go.
It can be a very useful tool, I am not going to deny it. But it can also bring all sorts of confusion and misunderstandings. For example, a few days ago, someone was talking to me about a broken bone and his French to English translator app asked me if the person had broken the bone in half. I think he meant to ask if it was broken.
Although these devices can certainly help with simple tasks like reading a sign or perhaps asking someone for directions, I wouldn’t use them in a normal conversation. Machine translation devices do not recognise cultural traces, localisation issues, idiomatic expressions and other features of every language. They simply translate word by word. Over the years, machine translation apps such as Google translator have improved a lot, but they still don’t provide great accuracy.
So, if you need a simple sentence translated it may give you an accurate translation, but if you want a more elaborate sentence where there may be a few slang words or cultural traces particular to that country, then you may find that your personal translator doesn’t do a great job at all.
But let’s face it, we can’t hire an interpreter to follow us during our holidays overseas, even if we are translators ourselves we don’t speak all languages in the world, so we will need help too.
It is undeniable that these apps are very useful. Although they may not give you a 100% accurate result, they still do a good job and that is helping you get around in a foreign country. They will translate most of it correctly so I guess you can always know what you are trying to read.
When they fail, you will get a funny result that will only make you laugh. If that happens when you are trying to communicate with a local, then it will add to the fun.