Can Google speak Welsh?

Languages have been making the news in Wales in the past couple of weeks. Most recently, the National Assembly of Wales has announced it is considering proposals that would see Welsh and English become its official languages. Meanwhile, another article from the BBC quotes Assembly Member Aled Roberts (Liberal Democrat) as saying that new plans for housing developments in North East Wales could have a negative effect on the Welsh language.  

This follows on from controversy last week when it was reported that the National Assembly of Wales had recommended that records of debates should be translated into Welsh using Google Translate.

I have to admit, I quite like Google Translate. I used it last week when I was researching the blog entry Does Age Matter?. I don’t speak Dutch so I copied and pasted the article from De Standaard into the site and from the resulting translation I could get a reasonably good idea of what was being talked about.

But it is by no means perfect. Here is an example of what Google Translate came up with:

Original: ‘Volgens m’n eigen studies verandert er wélietsin de hersenen: kinderen die vóór hun puberteit naar een ander taalgebied verhuizen, raken soms de correcte uitspraak en de grammatica van hun moedertaal volledig kwijt’

Translation: ‘According to my own studies, will change somethingin the brains, children before puberty to move another language, sometimes hitting the correct pronunciation and grammar of their native language completely lost.’

Dutch-English speakers will have to verify the accuracy of the translation but I presume that the original was slightly more coherent than the Google Translate version. This is not surprising - it is a computer programme and, at the moment anyway, technology is just not sophisticated enough to pick up all the nuances and subtleties of language. In this case, however, I didn’t need a professional translation – I just wanted to quickly gain an overview of an article that looked interesting and for this, Google Translate sufficed.

This is very different to using the site to create official documents, even if, as proposed by the Assembly, a proof-reader will be employed to check it. The debates that are being recorded are important; they can lead to policies that will affect the people of Wales. Having a general idea of what is being said is not good enough in this context; the detail is vital. And for this, a professional translator would surely be required?

Having said that, I can sympathise with the Welsh Assembly’s predicament. According to articles on both the NPLD and BBC websites, officials researching different options have stated that ‘any new arrangement would need to be sustainable in the long term and provided at a reasonable cost.’ In the current economic climate, with pressures to reduce public spending, I can see why Google Translate would be an attractive solution. It is currently free to use and having someone proof read it would cost less than paying someone to do a full translation.

But Wales has made the news in the past because of translations  – have a look at this road sign for example. Should this make the Welsh Assembly more cautious? Should they show more support towards professional translators? Or is Google Translate a good compromise? 

I would be very interested to hear your thoughts on this in the Comments section below.

2 thoughts on “Can Google speak Welsh?

  1. Pingback: Regional and Minority Languages: An inevitable decline? | Language Rich Europe

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