Google translate has become quite fashionable to use when trying to market services in another language. Like all machine translation tools though, there’s a catch. The result is absolute rubbish. Below is a real example of a spam email we have just received:

“Hello, we are professional maker-up. Currently we are looking for contracts for the following items:
-preparing text for the translation;
-making-up translated text you are need;
-designing a model for the printing;
-etc.
We have professional skills which allow to get a perfect result for every client. We can suggest to you professional service to get the result as soon as possible.
If you have any interest please let us know .”

If you are an English speaker, this text will look really odd to you, and yes its a genuine attempt to get business. Apart from the bad grammar, the real problem phrase is “maker-up”. Apart from the fact that this doesn’t exist in English, the phrasal verb to “make something up” implies inventing something, in the context of a story – and probably a children’s story or a fairy tale. I was very puzzled by the expression at first, I think what they mean is that they are professional copywriters, or possibly a design agency. Will I be calling them? I don’t think so. OK, so a company working in the translation industry should know better than to try and send this type of drivel, the trouble is that companies in all sectors get caught out by this kind of naivety. We were recently contacted by an engineering company who had exhibited at a major European trade show and received feedback that their sales brochure, which had been translated into German using Google translate had some mistakes, would we have a look at it? I am amazed that a professional company can presumably spend thousands of pounds exhibiting at a trade show, pay good money to print brochures, and not think that they might actually need them professionally translated. The answer was that the full document needed to be translated from scratch, and the client had wasted a lot of money on printing brochures which had to be thrown away.

So is there value in using Google translate?

The answer of course, is it depends….Should it be used to translate marketing materials such as websites, press releases and brochures? Absolutely not, it will give a very poor and unprofessional image, and is worse than no translation at all.

Can it be used at all in a commercial setting? Well if you just want to know whether an email is machine generated spam or a genuine enquiry meriting follow-up, it can probably give sufficient gist for this. Even at this level it is however limited. For example it can fail as basically is giving a negative as a positive and vice versa.

So what’s the solution?

A professional translation services company can give correct, professional translation. This will allow you to look professional on the international stage. Many large companies would have the resources to employ translators in-house, but few choose to do this. The reasons are simple: how do you check and proofread the work, how do you ensure relevant technical competence?