Just how accurate is Google Translate in 2021? Can you use Google Translate for official documents? Can you trust it to translate a personal letter correctly? The truth is, the answers to these questions will almost always depend on the language in question. Due to the nature of Google Translate and how it "learns," some languages have become much more accurate than others over the years.
Spanish is one of the most common languages on the planet, and English to Spanish (and vice-versa) language translation services are some of the most commonly requested. This database of information, over time, has given Google Translate more to work with between English and Spanish than between almost any other language pairs. But what does this mean for the average user?
In this article, we will look at the basics behind the current Google Translate Algorithm, how accurate it is for Spanish translations, and how you should think about utilizing it in your daily life.
The Google Translate Algorithm
Google uses a neural machine translation system they developed themselves and rolled out in late 2016. Neural networks are a series of algorithms that work in a way somewhat reminiscent of a human brain (multiple connected nodes of information similar to neurons) and are used to recognize relationships between vast amounts of data.
Previously, translations were computed in a basic word-for-word fashion with logical assumptions made here or there. Very simply put, with a neural network, each word is broken into multiple fragments that allow the computer to focus on context and meaning in a phrase, using basic semantics and significance assumption. This state-of-the-art process has allowed for Google Translations to become exceptionally more accurate for languages that are in active use. You can read more about how it works here.
Sadly, languages like Latin, which are now only text-based, cannot benefit from neural networks currently. This system requires active usage for the machine to pull from.
Google Translate and Spanish
As we said one of the most requested language translation services on the planet is English to Spanish and Spanish to English. This makes English to Spanish translation online and the respective services perhaps the best benchmark from which to judge the accuracy of Google Translate. By seeing what we can accomplish on Google Translate with Spanish, we can see where most languages will be over the next half-decade or so.
By looking at an evaluation of scores of Google Translate in 107 Languages and a 2019 Google Translate Accuracy study, you see that Spanish translation accuracy gets between 5% and 17% of words incorrect, depending on the difficulty of the subject matter. What does this level of accuracy mean for the day to day user?
“Nevertheless, state-of-the-art systems lag significantly behind human performance in all but the most specific translation tasks.” - Google AI Blog
Are Spanish Translators Obsolete?
Still, getting 10% of words incorrect serves to decipher the vast majority of words and phrases that one submits to it. This technology will be incredibly useful for applications and pieces of tech that provide instant translation and interpretation services, like some modern earpieces are now able to. With this high level of accuracy the majority of phrases will be understood, even if a stray word here or there is out of place.
So is this the end of the classic translation company? Well, no. While accurate, it is still nowhere near accurate enough to replace professional translation and language interpretation services.
“[Our] models still fall prey to typical machine translation errors, including poor performance on particular genres of subject matter... conflating different dialects of a language, producing overly literal translations, and poor performance on informal and spoken language.” - Google AI Blog
Even if automated translation services were 99% accurate, that would still mean 1% would be expected to have errors. In a medical translation context, this could mean the misdiagnosis of thousands of people each year. Something no one is on board with. The same logic applies to a business context, no company wants to risk a huge investment without some double-checking from human experts. In the most important contexts, a human translator is just as necessary as ever.
You can think of it this way, even if you knew it was 99% accurate, you still wouldn’t get some word tattooed on yourself unless you double-checked with a native speaker. It is part of human nature.
Until machines can prove to be better than human translators, a feat that may be quite difficult giving the ever evolving nature and deep nuances of language, highly-specialized fields like the medical services will need to use human translators.
How to Use Google Translate
So what we have found here is that for highly technical fields such as legal documentation, you will still need to hire yourself a translator. If you are wanting to speak Spanish in a simple conversation, or in a more informal setting, then Google Translate is an amazing and easy to use asset.
For businesses, you can use Google Translate for placeholder translation work, to help keep a project moving until you can bring in a specialist. You can also use it to get by while you travel or have conversations with new friends.
In the near future, many new devices like Google’s Wireless ‘Pixel Buds’ are being made in order to translate up to 40 languages in real-time using the neural network behind Google Translate. These will be great for travel, but it may take a while before you see them trusted in high-powered business meetings.
Need Language Expertise Immediately?
We have shown that Google Translate is great for more casual translation needs but that you will still need trained experts if you are hoping to leverage language services into your business, medical, or scientific endeavors. Rather than Googling "translation services near me," and hoping for the best, you can utilize the top 1% of translators working today by simply contacting The Spanish Group. The Spanish Group offers fast and accurate translations in 90+ languages and is an excellent solution to your language issues.