Google Translate stories

Back when I was lightly dabbling with Japanese (before getting into actually studying it), I didn’t have any established resources for translating words or phrases (Jisho is now my go-to friend for that) so I would tend to rely on using Google Translate for that task. While it does well enough for single words and short sentences, I would notice that it tended to struggle more with longer, more complicated sentences and spat out jumbles of broken or unnatural English at me. It wasn’t until I saw Abroad in Japan’s video on Google Translate that I started to grasp why, and I found it interesting to learn what things about the Japanese language tend to trip up automated translators. I don’t know if GT has come any further since the video came out in 2020, but I still find the video hilarious.

I haven’t messed around with Google Translate enough to get any notably horrendous translations from JP to English, but after seeing the examples in the Youtube video, I’m sure someone or another around here has. I’d love to hear any funny or otherwise interesting anecdotes (and any insights on Google Translate in general.)

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Haven’t watched the video, so I don’t know what examples come up, but a student at my school once turned in a passage she admitted was google translated, and it contained this gem.

“The people in Akita prefecture love the taste of the bag.”

:thinking:

Turns out “taste of the bag” was お袋の味

I just tried it now and it still does this.

image

お袋 actually means “(one’s) mother”. So お袋の味 should be translated as “the taste of their mother’s cooking.”

We all had a good laugh.

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It would seem Google didn’t know what お袋 meant (or didn’t understand that it’s a colloquialism, not literally referring to a bag with the honorific) and just picked out the kanji 袋 (bag/sack) and went with that.

Funnily enough, I looked up お袋 on Jisho to see where Google might have gotten “bag” from and that exact phrase popped up as a result (with お袋 written in kana, but still.)

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Google translate does handle it better with お袋 written in kana. It goes with “mother’s taste.”

That’s still a little strange though, and not idiomatic.

jpdb suggests that kana and kanji are used roughly the same amount in their database.

image

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Doesn’t the word 味 primarily translate to “taste” or “flavor” though? You can figure out in the phrase that the word is meant as “taste” as in “taste of food/cooking”, but if you translate it very literally (which it seems Google often does) you’ll get something weird sounding like “mother’s taste.”

Also interesting that Google reads the kana version better, maybe it uses a different database?

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It does mean “taste” or “flavor”, yes. If the girl had written “mother’s taste” I would have offered an improved phrasing, but I doubt I’d have told the story to anyone.

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True, “taste of bag” makes for a much better story. :joy:

This makes me wonder how many other times Google has tripped up on words being used in a colloquial or idiomatic fashion.

On Sunday an infamous character named Bridget was announced to be returning in the latest entry of their fighting game. Thing was, in the whopping 8 hours between the announcement and the patch going live the community went nuts because character profile and new visual design implied that the character is now trans (formerly just a biologically male crossdresser that identified as male, iirc). Some people actually thought that because Google Translate inserted male pronouns that meant the character was male :man_facepalming: The official translations were sometimes scuff (the patch notes released that night even failed to handle a time/date conversion), but who the heck actually thinks Google Translate is better than professional localizers???

Google’s pronoun usage is so bad it might as well be random.

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“It seems that the soul of the gnoll who succeeded in jumping and climbing the waterfall was violently shaken.”

Oh boy, hiccups with pronouns in translations crossing paths with a rather sensitive gender culture. What could possibly go wrong? (That was rhetorical, I don’t wish to comment any further)

Kind of getting away from that topic, I’ve also seen the whole “seemingly random pronouns” phenomenon in Korean or Japanese Youtube videos with English captions, where the pronouns aren’t accurate and may even switch between male and female between sentences. I don’t think much of it obviously, but it makes me wonder if they’re using a translator like Google to make said captions (I tend to see this with creators that don’t know English.)

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DeepL actually does a decent job with this:

Although it does tend to favor natural sounding English so it has it’s own problems.

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Yeah - when Google would spit total gibberish, Deepl will try to make up something that at least sounds nice - but both will be equally wrong :sweat_smile:

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There’s also some translator fun to be had in this thread:

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One time I tried reading an entire novel with google translate (no other option since there weren’t any fan TL groups big enough to tackle it and I hadn’t even began learning Japanese)

Because of the cover/promotional material I had a good idea what each character’s gender was (helped that the novel’s protagonist was called the “gaurd girl” in the book title)

but it sure was an interesting experience having the same character be referred to with different pronouns within the same sentence
It wasn’t good, but after a while I got a little used to it and thought if someone wrote w/ pronouns like that intentionally it could make for an interesting experiment in writing non binary characters or something

Also, this isn’t a thing with the novel, but a character from the wider series. He’s called Fuuta
but due to ふ being both ‘fu’ and ‘hu’
Sticking something with his name into google translate usually results in the poor lad being called “Hooter” :joy: