Using the Google Translate plugin on your website may seem like a good idea: it’s simple to install, it’s free, and it requires minimal effort on your part. But remember, you get what you pay for!
10 Problems with Using the Google Translate Plugin on Your Site
Translations Aren’t Always Accurate
Google Translate isn’t yet smart enough to consider context, and messages are translated word for word, potentially losing the overall meaning and resulting in stilted, inaccurate statements. For example, we took a simple statement – “Cut the clutter with paperless billing” and translated it into Simplified Chinese using Google Translate. Then we used Google Translate to back-translate it into English. The result was “Use paperless bills to reduce confusion.” Google Translate captures a gist – but it sounds stilted and unclear.
It’s Difficult to Change Languages
If the language picker is difficult to find buried at the bottom of the page, it’s a wasted effort. Check out www.oregon.gov and scroll to the very bottom to see an example. Or on www.nationalgrid.com where you have to make several choices in English before you get to a page where the picker is buried at the bottom of the page.
Languages in the Language Picker Are in English
If your website visitor can’t read English they won’t know where the picker is or be able to select the right language. Imagine that you are on a Chinese website looking for the language picker to switch it to English, how will you know where the picker is if you can’t read Chinese characters? Then, how would you know how to pick your language if you can’t read Chinese? You have to pick your language out of a list of many that are all in Chinese characters. This alone makes the plugin practically useless to put this on your website.
Some Languages Don’t Work
If it’s not installed correctly and then tested, the selections may not work. Make sure and test everything on your website.
Sometimes It Partially Works
On some sites, the text in the body of the page is translated but the headers, footers and calls to action buttons aren’t translated, or vice versa. Check out www.Cpsenergy.com and click on “Español” – the headers and footers appear in Spanish as well as some text here and there, but the vast majority of the text and all the graphics remain in English.
It Doesn’t Capture Your Message The Way You Meant It
The literal translation from Google Translate often loses the meaning and feeling of your message. Here is an example from Mazda. The tagline in Japanese is Jinba ittai – it captures the feeling of a Japanese mounted archer at one with his horse soaring across the land. A few months ago, when we first put Jinba ittai in Google Translate, it translated the phrase as “danger”. If you try it now it translates as simply “jinba”, or sometimes it says, “one horse”. Either way – the meaning is wrong and lacks the feeling of the original phrase. Can you imagine Mazda using the slogan “Drive a Mazda – it’s your one-horse car”?
It’s Not Always Culturally Appropriate.
Google Translate translates your words, but not your context. If you want to relate to your audience, you need to make sure your visuals and cultural references are appropriate too. For example, last year’s Sharper Image catalog and website featured pictures of all white models in all languages. The creators didn’t include any pictures of different colors or ethnicities.
It’s Not Engaging to Customers
Google translate does NOT sound like a native speaker would write. You lose your readers if you don’t take the time to give them easy to access information in their native language and that’s culturally adapted. In the world today we are surrounded by content. If it’s not engaging and easy to consume, people move on.
It Hurts Your UX
When finding and using the language picker becomes a chore, you may lose those potential customers out of frustration. Take the website www.4tests.com for example. They offer free practice standardized tests including the TOEFL exam (Test of English as a Foreign Language) – the one that foreign students are required to take to be accepted to a university in the US. The website offers great advice about preparation, but even though users may speak English well enough to comprehend their tips, they’ll be searching for the information in their native language. Or the parents, who will be paying for the test, may not have strong English skills and may need the information easily accessible in their native language. 4Tests.com is losing money by using Google Translate buried at the bottom of their website.
Bad Translations Could Increase Your Legal Risk
Regulated industry companies’ websites, like currency exchange companies, law firms and life science companies, require very precise language to meet the letter of the law. Google Translate’s “gist” translation could put the company at risk for liability.
When it May be Appropriate to Use the Google Translate Plugin on Your Site
With all this being said, there are some good uses for Google Translate.
- Writing love letters to someone who doesn’t speak your language. Even if it’s wrong, you can laugh about it.
- Random emails. Pop them into Google Translate and get the gist.
- Increasing your knowledge of how imperative quality translation is on matters of importance.
When you need a culturally appropriate, translated website, contact a professional translation company. High-quality agencies will provide human translators who will ensure that the translated website is culturally-appropriate and that the picker is easy to find and use so your non-English-speaking visitors will receive the same superior experience as your English-speaking audience.