As most of you by now know, Facebook has the ability to translate one’s sentences or content from one language to another. Public content can now easily be transferred into the user’s language of choice. How? Facebook’s feature uses the newly integrated Bing translator.
Anyone who has played around with the Facebook translations or, for that matter, web translations of any kind, know that they are not often correct. Shockingly enough, I read over the weekend that less than half of the translations are actually correct. A wonderful blog called Lexiophiles, found at www.lexiophiles.com, reported this:
”As we know, the language we use on Facebook is far from being publishable material. In fact, it is usually full of slang or colloquial terms, spelling, grammar or punctuation mistakes. These will not make it easy for Bing to produce translations of quality, or even intelligible ones.”
To prove this statistic, LexioPhiles took several segments from Twitter, then ran these sentences through Bing’s translation software. The results, after being processed by Bing’s translation software, were startling. English to French scored at well below 10% accuracy, while Italian to English to peaked slightly at 50% for correct slang translation. For whatever reason, Italian to English was the most accurate language reported, with all other common languages coming in at less than 50% accuracy (i.e. English to German was less than 20% accurate, English to Spanish was less than 20% accurate, and English to Portuguese was less than 10% accurate). The reportedly shocking part here is that Facebook still continues to utilize the defective tool despite its inability to perform error-free translations.
Below, you’ll find Facebook’s translation of a post crafted in perfect French, then translated to broken English via Bing software.
In general, a Facebook post crafted perfectly in one language will be translated to broken English with the Bing software, and vice versa. While those with half a brain can certainly make the most of the fractured translation, there is a lot that will be missed. The language one uses also says a lot about a person, at least to me anyway.
Overall, it is highly likely that the translation Facebook suggests to you will be nonsensical, or worse even – misleading. “The top results barely reach 50% correct translation – an utter disaster”
I have a degree in Spanish but, due to lack of practice, I would never call myself a linguist. However, I can certainly hold a conversation and, when I converse with native Spanish speakers, I only need to pick up a few key words here and there in order to grasp the meat of the conversation. I’ve been using this same method with Facebook’s broken translations, and I have yet to become bothered by what I feel are excusable errors. Naturally, it would be fantastic if the software performed with 100% accuracy every time, but again, I fail to see why minor translation faults are such a big deal. BUT I use Facebook ONLY for my personal life, and I am strictly speaking about my personal Facebook page. I would never use Facebook’s translation software for my business page under any circumstances, and I would advise my business clients not to either. Should I be holding Facebook to a higher standard because of the business I work in?
Bing’s inability to flawlessly translate every phrase or keyword doesn’t hamper my potential to put two and two together, and likewise, I doubt anyone else will mind the imprecision. While some might argue that Facebook has made the wrong choice to integrate the “faulty” software, I happen to be thankful that it’s there. Better this than nothing at all, right?
The dilemma for those of us in the translations business is “how important are accurate translations?” I know from personal experience that common sense can help one understand a fragmented sentence. Is that good enough? Even in the business world, we have clients who will ask us to “just give them the gist of what the email says.” They prefer speed over accuracy and certainly over quality, any day of the week.
Is 100% accuracy important? Should those of us in the language services business lead the way in wanting more accuracy? This is a dilemma I think about often. Playing around with web services that offer translation can offer endless hours of amusement; it is amazing how easily language can be twisted. Is it okay to “get the idea” of what someone says, or should accuracy be insisted upon? Should Facebook be looking at other options when it comes to translating public content on the platform? Is it really that big of a deal? Should we be grateful we can communicate at all? What do you think?