International Business and Technology Blog

Google translate: an update...

Posted by John Worthington on Wed, Apr 26, 2017

Google's perpetual drive for innovation means more disruption is coming our way. An example is Google’s new translation system that has delivered measurable improvements in the fluency of Google Translate. Google has begun rolling out the service across all its languages, chat boxes, web pages, articles, blogs, emails, social media, message forums…First updated were the most commonly used primary languages (English, Chinese, Spanish, Japanese, Portuguese, French, Korean and Turkish), as well as Google’s >192 country specific search engines, the Google Translate website and the Website Translator plugin. Our research shows that Google Translate is now better than ever for personal use, but remains bad for business!

Just one year ago, we took a deep dive into Google Translate, exploring reasons to both love and hate the service, check it out.

Translations.jpgWe noted that Google Translate boasts 103 languages, covering 99% of the online population and processes more than 1 billion user translation requests per day. We loved Google Translate because it is so easy to use and it costs nothing. But we hated Google Translate because the results ranged from a rough approximation to complete gibberish. Our conclusion: it was great for personal use, but bad for business.

Google has completely re-engineered the service and the result is a system that learns and figures out its own way to translate as it reads, manipulates and re-creates the text it must translate. The system now rates 5.43 (out of 6) for 500 sentences taken randomly from Wikipedia. This is just 0.12 points behind the 5.55 accorded to professional human translators. A quantum step forward with more to come, as the system is based on deep learning techniques, using “networks of math functions loosely inspired by studies of mammalian brains”. 

The new system is called the Google Neural Machine Translation (GNMT) and its creators are themselves unsure exactly what it is doing! There is an excellent review from the MIT Technology Review, in which Google researcher Quoc Le says “It can be unsettling, but we've tested it in a lot of places and it just works.” So there you go: a great example of artificial intelligence (AI) delivering for its own creator while us mere humans struggle to understand each other. If you want to know more about the technology check out this fascinating review.  Presenting the Google vision, Quoc maintains that this AI approach to translation will generate better relations between people and between people and machines. We definitely see a short term benefit, but as Stephen Hawking warned us back in 2015, one of the greatest threats to humanity is AI.

translation2.jpgPersonal use, even better: use it at home and abroad. In a home, learning and educational context, Google Translate is brilliant, providing families and students (implying also those with limited funds) access to extra-ordinary amounts of material that are now available and translatable online. The inter-cultural, multi-disciplinary, cross border learning and communication opportunities take on a whole new dimension. But there are pitfalls with the new Google Translate, as serious students of language understand. A language includes knowledge of culture, norms and it's historic context. Another wonderful example is when travelling internationally. Google’s Translate functionality in a country where you do not understand the language, is great fun, opens new doors and opportunities! Try it. If the translation is a little off, who cares, everyone gets the gist and you are, after all, a foreigner!

Business use: Don't take it to the office. Google Translate presents risk for business understanding and communication where professional rigour is required. Just take the context of legal contract, technical documentation as well as marketing and sales communications. There is measurable uncertainty and scope for misunderstanding that can quickly have material financial implications.

The free Website Translator plugin for businesses, is in fact hugely expensive, as consumers and business users take their custom elsewhere. The plugin can be quickly applied regardless of website content (number of pages, technical information…). Locate the Google Translate URL, apply your website information, configure the plugin settings, select the languages and you’re done. It is as easy as that. Also, there is no cost, other than that of setting it up. However the user experience is poor, the website is not easy to find, becomes difficult to navigate and engage with and so users, not surprisingly, go elsewhere. Give it a try on a Chinese or German site and see what you think!

The Website Translator plugin does not deliver website localization. A localized website is one that is optimized for local search engines and adapted for the local, native users. Therefore think of your own local language, culture, design, images, currency, measurements as well as the legal and regulatory context. Website localization demands technology, programming expertise coupled with professional linguistic and cultural knowledge. The translation of content is a small part of the entire process. The disciplines and processes require a unification of both on and offline human skill sets not normally found in one place, and that demands time, resource and financial investment.

At the heart of the exercise, as always with a website, is the online user and their website experience. In today’s competitive online world, the buzzword is User Experience (UX). In a global context, good UX means a local visitor to your localized website, wherever that is, who finds the site easily and engages with the content. The objective is that the user stays a long time, navigating as planned through defined pages, responds to calls to action, landing pages and, where available, an opportunity to purchase.

A "website localization review" of established Fortune 500 companies as well as those >200 fast emerging Unicorns, demonstrates the importance of country specific websites to those businesses. From the world's most valuable company, that is Apple with >140 localized websites to one of the fastest growing, namely UBER with >80 localized websites, the online global route to market is clear. The Website Translator has its place, but it is not for successful globally aspiring businesses. The conclusion is that successful global businesses implement rigorous website localization programs that grow their global sales, brand and businesses.



Related sources: 
1) The New York Times Magazine
2) The Economist

Tags: All posts, Website Localization, Global Markets