Fun with Google Translate

A conversation at work reminded me to try out the Google Translate Android app's new Conversation Mode, which I did tonight. I spoke this conversation to the phone, first as custom clerk in English and Jim in Chinese (Mandarin):

Me: Hello can I see your passport please
Android: 你好可以,我看你的護照,請
Should be: 您好,請出示您的護照

Me: 給你
Android: You
Should be: Here you are

Me: What is the purpose of your visit
Android: 您訪問的目的是什麽
Should be: 您旅行的目的是什麽

Me: 觀光
Android: Tourism
Should be: Sightseeing

Me: Where are you staying
Android: 你是在哪裡停留
Should be: 您將在哪兒住宿

Me: 中國大飯店
Android: China world hotel
Should be: China world hotel

Me: How long will you be staying in china
Android: 多久你會留在中國
Should be: 預計在中國停留幾天

Me: 六天
Android: Six days
Should be: Six days

Me: Okay have a nice trip
Android: 好有一個不錯的行程
Should be: 好,祝您玩得愉快

"Should be" is the reference translation on the website, which I have to say, is sometimes a bit odd. The entire "conversation" took about six minutes, with most of the time spent on 「給你 (gĕi nín)」. I noticed that when I tried hard to pronounce the tonal change in gĕi, most of the time it will be recognized as two words (either as 「電影 (dìan yĭng)」or 「捷運 (jié yùn)」). So I tried to drop the tonal change, and Google would translate it as "gay". That's another thing I noticed, Google tries too hard to recognize English phrases within Chinese, and there's no way to tell it "Yes I really am speaking Chinese, only!". Lets not forget that it translated「給你」incorrectly. At least things are (sometimes) better when it has more context to work with, so longer sentences are (sometimes) both recognized and translated better (ex: 「我有一樣東西給你」is translated to "I have a thing for you"). Context is both a blessing and a curse though, if what you are trying to say sounds similar to a common noun (which probably means it's searched on Google often), then good luck trying to make Google return what you really mean.

There are other relatively minor problems as well. Most sentences took multiple tries to be recognized correctly. I am not sure if it recognizes English better or my Mandarin is worse (probably both), it has a much easier time "understanding" English sentences. If Google thinks it recognized a word correctly, there's no way you can tell it otherwise (that is, using the built-in correct option, you can edit it out and start over). And if it recognized a Chinese word incorrectly, even if it's not sure (those are shown as blue), you can't correct it either.

Just for fun I tried to speak the conversation the other way. I am not going to post the conversation here, other than that Google insists 「預計 (yù jì)」is "wiki" and I couldn't find a way to get past that. Did I say Google is trying too hard?

by khc on Mon Oct 17 23:29:24 2011 Permlink