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Use Google to Translate German to English

Testing the performance of Google's online translator.

This article is part of my machine translation series which tests the abilities of free online translators Google Translate, World Lingo, Paralink, and Bing


Can Google translate German to English? A test using text from Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland.

Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland (Chap.1)

Lewis Carroll’s "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" is a famous children’s classic .

In a 2 step process, I've put an excerpt from Chapter One through Google's online translator: firstly, the authorised German translation by Antonie Zimmerman to see how well Google translates the German to English, followed by the English original to compare the German translation against the authorized German version.

See what you make of the results.

ORIGINAL:

"Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, 'and what is the use of a book,' thought Alice 'without pictures or conversation?'

So she was considering in her own mind (as well as she could, for the hot day made her feel very sleepy and stupid), whether the pleasure of making a daisy-chain would be worth the trouble of getting up and picking the daisies, when suddenly a White Rabbit with pink eyes ran close by her."

GOOGLE TRANSLATION:

"Alice was beginning to get bored and she sat a long time with her sister on the bank, and had nothing to do, this book read her sister did not like her;. Because there were no pictures or conversations in it," And what good books. "thought Alice," without pictures and conversations? "

She considered just, (as best I could, because she was sleepy and stupid from the heat) to get up if it was worth the trouble and picking daisies to make a necklace with it when suddenly tight a white rabbit with red eyes ran past her."


Now,  I first did this experiment back in 2013, and then again in 2019, as shown above.

Repeating my initial experiments shows that over the past 5 years Google has improved when it comes to word order, and recognizing the German vocabulary.

But some parts have actually got worse (“this book read her sister did not like her”). Hum.

So, now step 2:

Here's the authorized German translation of Lewis Carroll's original by Antonie Zimmermann, compared with Google's 2019 attempt to translate the original English into German:


AUTHORIZED TRANSLATION:

"Alice fing an sich zu langweilen; sie saß schon lange bei ihrer Schwester am Ufer und hatte nichts zu tun. Das Buch, das ihre Schwester las, gefiel ihr nicht; denn es waren weder Bilder noch Gespräche darin. »Und was nützen Bücher,« dachte Alice, »ohne Bilder und Gespräche?«

Sie überlegte sich eben, (so gut es ging, denn sie war schläfrig und dumm von der Hitze,) ob es der Mühe wert sei aufzustehen und Gänseblümchen zu pflücken, um eine Kette damit zu machen, als plötzlich ein weißes Kaninchen mit roten Augen dicht an ihr vorbeirannte."

GOOGLE TRANSLATION:

"Alice fing an, sich sehr müde zu sitzen von ihrer Schwester auf der Bank, und mit nichts zu tun: einmal oder zweimal hatte sie in das Buch ihrer Schwester las guckte, aber es hatte keine Bilder oder Gespräche in ihm ', und was ist der Einsatz eines Buches, dachte Alice 'ohne Bilder oder Konversation?

So wurde sie in ihrem eigenen Geist bedenkt (so gut sie konnte, für den heißen Tag fühlte sie sich sehr schläfrig und dumm), ob das Vergnügen, eine Daisy-Chain wäre der Mühe wert, aufzustehen und die Kommissionierung der Gänseblümchen, als plötzlich ein weißer Hase mit rosa Augen lief nahe an ihr vorbei."


A few thoughts on Google translating German to English.

Clearly, millions of German readers wouldn't have learned to love Alice in Wonderland if they'd been forced to read the Google translation! 

This machine translation has given us a general idea of the meaning of the text, but it needs work to become an acceptable translation.

This is not a criticism - it simply serves to help clarify the role of free online translation.

The greatest limitation of a free online translator is the inability to appreciate context - just think how you would choose a different tone, different vocabulary etc. if writing a letter of condolence, or a recipe, or an instruction manual, or a company's financial statements...

A comment I often read in the translator forums is that when a computer can understand what is meant by "the chickens are ready to eat" - are they are going to get fed?, or, are we about to eat them? - then we human translators need to start worrying.

Machine translation will continue to improve and become increasingly useful for routine, predictable translations, but will never be sufficient for interpreting literary works, creating effective marketing texts, and highly specialised translations.

Why? Well just consider everything that goes into a good translation.

I hope you found this little experiment useful. Have a go with the Google translator yourself!


TIP! These texts are taken from the Gutenberg Project, the first and largest distributor of eBooks, and are copyright free. The Gutenberg Project is also one of my recommended sources of free German translations for German translation students, providing copyright-free English and German versions of classic texts.


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This article is part of my machine translation series which tests the abilities of free online translators Google Translate, World Lingo, Paralink, and Bing


Joanna Scudamore-Trezek

I'm a German to English translator living and working in Vienna,  Austria.  I turn German texts into clear and accessible English, allowing clients to present their stories, ideas and information to a completely new audience. My business and marketing clients rely on me to get their message across clearly and effectively.  How can I help you today?