Lost in Translation with Google Translate

image0 - Lost in Translation with Google Translate

We all know that learning a “new to us” language can be tedious and daunting. The most frustrating part of learning a language is translating a word or expression that a native speaker does not understand. You’ve heard the expression “lost in translation”, right? Well, there is truth in this; it’s not just a movie. Many times, idiomatic expressions and many words do not translate with the same meaning. For example, in English we use the expression “It’s raining cats and dogs”, and “I have a frog in my throat.” If we directly translate these same expressions in French, for example, our intended meanings are lost. The French say instead, “It’s raining ropes.”, and “I have a cat in my throat.” You may think, well, those are specific expressions, but did you know the same miscommunication occurs with words? For example, “goldfish” in French is actually translated as “red fish”?

While most of us have plugged a word or phrase into Google Translate at times, we never know for sure if the translation is accurate. We are provided with a direct translation only, which does not account for context. There are good websites that offer more detailed, context-specific translations supplied by native speakers with forums to ask and respond to language specific questions. 

So, how do we know if our translations are accurate? Below is a short list of some useful websites that provide context to help us feel confident in our translations. Here are a few that come out on top.

  1. Wordreference: www.wordreference.com – As an educator, this is my personal favorite as it provides context, part of speech, example sentences, and explanations for translations along with native speaker commentary thus giving you the best option for your context.
  2. Linguee: https://www.linguee.com/ – This site provides many different sentences in both formal and informal situations in which the expression or word is used, so you get the context and appropriate grammar usage.
  3. ReversoDictionary: https://dictionary.reverso.net/ – This site provides word and expression translations with many different explanations, variations, part of speech, and context usage along with appropriate pronunciation by native speakers.

Finally, to know if we have selected the right translation, here are a couple of steps to take to ensure a decent selection.

  1. Reverse word lookup: type the newly translated word or expression in the translated dialogue box and translate it back into the original language. If it translates back to the same word or expression you originally typed, you are on the right track. For example, from English to French, you type “goldfish” and “poisson rouge” pops up as your translation. Then, if you switch from French to English and type “poisson rouge” and “goldfish” pops up as your translation, you likely have a decent translation. This method works well with full sentences or expressions where there is context.
  2. Verify with multiple sites: type in the same word or expression in more than one of the translation websites to see if you receive the same results.

There are many other reliable websites along with free and paid apps for downloading. The key in choosing a good translation website or app is to locate one that offers context with examples and explanations with part of speech. 

By Summer HC

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