If you’ve ever used Google Translate to crack the code of a foreign-language meme you saw online, you know there’s still something to be desired in automatic translation.
While the technology has certainly come a long way, it’s still not good enough to rely on if you care at all about accuracy or not being embarrassed. And if you’re not convinced of how hilariously bad it could be, here are a few Google Translate fails to scare you straight.
None of that is to say automatic translation is entirely useless. It’s great for when you’re merely trying to get the gist of what’s written on a website or in an email, or for when you just need to look up a really simple word or phrase (and for when you can afford to make a mistake). If you’re on the road, Google Translate can potentially help you out of a bind when you’re looking for directions or a basic necessity and you merely need a quick word handy.
But we’re here to make the case for why you shouldn’t rely on translation technology to grease the wheels for your upcoming trip.
As professional translator Andy Martin wrote in The Independent, “This is what I tell my class: if you want to be a good translator, don’t translate. Only bad translators translate. You have to live it. If you want to translate George Sand or Flaubert or Tolstoy, for the duration of that translation, you have to be George Sand, you have to be Flaubert, but reborn, as if they really spoke English, now.”
Asking for good local restaurants is a lot less grandiose than occupying Tolstoy’s headspace, but the point remains: when robots translate, humans miss out. Here are a few reasons why you shouldn’t use Google Translate on your trip.
You’ll probably fall flat on your face
Even if Google Translate doesn’t serve you an epic translation fail that makes you accidentally lob obscenities or sexually explicit words at total strangers, you’ll probably still end up with a garbled mess of verbiage that fails to get your intended point across (assuming you’re trying to do anything beyond asking for the bathroom). You might think you’re telling your Italian waiter that the meal was “amazing,” but you might actually end up using a word that’s only used to refer to heroin.
You’ll be at the mercy of an internet connection
Google Translate is probably better than nothing if you’re in a bind, but you’ll be in a lot of situations where you won’t have an internet connection, so this will really only help you if you look things up ahead of time and write them down. And if you’re leaning on a translation app for minor emergencies, this might more or less defeat the purpose.
You’ll have a hard time understanding what people are saying back to you
Even Google Pixel Buds are not yet good enough to translate languages in real-time, and if you’re merely relying on a text translation app, then you’ll definitely be at a loss when someone says something back to you. If you’re able to, practicing some language basics before you leave will be a much more effective means of enabling communication with the people you meet abroad.
You’ll miss out on real connections
It’s okay if you’re still struggling to speak the language. People generally appreciate it when you make the effort, and it’s hard to quantify how much richer your experience will be when you make an honest attempt to connect with your environment. One thing truly leads to another, and it could be the difference between “being a tourist” and “making a friend in another country.”