Lewis Carroll’s "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" is a famous children’s classic .
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.
"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."
"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
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:
"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."
"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
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.
I hope you found this little experiment useful. Have a go with the Google
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.
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?
Disclosure: We may earn a commission for purchases using our links. Learn more here.
Got a question?
Something you want to ask about German translation? Check out the Q&As or Ask Me!
[?] Subscribe & get sent the latest news, tips & resources!