A to Z 2016 — Google Translate (and other online translators)

Bonjour mes chers lecteurs ! Bienvenue sur le site “Forty, C’est Fantastique.” Qu’est-ce que c’est ? De quoi s’agit-il ? Alors, c’est mon voyage vers la langue française. Un voyage sans fin. Je l’ai commencé il y a trois ans et demi. De temps en temps, il y a des gens qui me demandent : “Comment as-tu appris la langue française ?” Je leur réponds : “Je n’ai pas appris la langue française. Je suis toujours en train de l’apprendre.”

Parlez Français !
Parlez Français !


La Partie en anglais

So what’s the deal with Google translate (and others like it)? Are they useful? Are they accurate *at all*?  Yes and no. Ok, not really.

Alors — Are they useful? I’m going to say yes, with reservations. Are they accurate? Hmmm… that depends. If you just want an idea of something, then kind of. But beware! If you translate it back to the original language, even once, the accuracy declines significantly. It’s kind of like that old game “Telephone” where you whisper something to the person next to you, then they whisper it to the next person, etc.  The original sentence is usually unrecognizable when it gets back to the beginning of the circle. There are also many words which have multiple meanings, (I am thinking of “voler”, the French verb which means both “to fly” and “to steal.” — don’t want to mix those up!) and Google translate may or may not pick the right one! This could get you into trouble if you aren’t careful.  Also, Google translate has no idea about most idiomatic expressions, so beware of that, especially since in French many things mean the exact opposite of the literal translation.

French –> English

Sometimes I will run a French text through one of these when I have some doubt about the general sense of what I read. It usually gives at least a basic idea of the meaning of the text. The grammar and syntax of the English results are usually pretty bad, but I look past that if all I want is the idea.  Here is an example where I took a random sentence from the story “La Rêveuse d’Ostende” by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt (I’m reading it for one of my classes) and ran it through the translator. First I will give the original French sentence, then my translation, then the online translator’s version. If you speak both languages, please tell me what you think:

  1. Original French sentence -“Pendant que je disposais des biscuits sur une assiette, l’idée me frôla que je venais d’introduire un inconnu dans mon foyer le jour où justement je n’avais pas de personnel, mais je m’en voulus de cette méfiance mesquine et je retournai, preste, avec mon plateau de thé fumant vers la bibliothèque. “
  2. My translation: “While I was putting some cookies on a plate, it struck me that I had just ushered a stranger into my house, and of course it had to be on a day when I had no staff! I was a little annoyed with myself for these petty feelings of mistrust, and I turned lithely toward the library with my tray of steaming tea.”
  3. Online Translator version: “While I had biscuits on a plate, brushed me the idea that I had to introduce a stranger in my home on the day exactly I had no staff, but I wanted this petty mistrust and I turned, nimble with my tea tray steaming toward the library. “

Overall, I would say that this one wasn’t too bad. (Of course I don’t know how good my own translation is…you tell me!) You can see that it’s possible to have the general idea of the sentence, but it would not be a good idea to use the online translator’s version directly in a document. For instance the phrase “S’en vouloir de + infinitive” is idiomatic and means “I was annoyed with myself for…”   A literal translation would point to “I had wanted …of…”  which is completely off the mark ! I had to learn from my prof what this meant.

English –> French 

I rarely do this, because I prefer to just use a French-English dictionary to find individual words. As you can imagine, the translation is not really better grammatically going the other way, and I don’t want to learn bad grammar and syntax, or worse, “faire une bêtise” in a letter or other document that I am writing. But just for fun, I have taken my translation of the above sentence and translated it into French and then back into English. Let’s see what happened…

  1. Original sentence: “While I was putting some cookies on a plate, it struck me that I had just ushered a stranger into my house, and of course it had to be on a day when I had no staff! I was a little annoyed with myself for these petty feelings of mistrust, and I turned lithely toward the library with my tray of steaming tea.”
  2. Online translator version: “Alors que je mettais quelques biscuits sur une plaque, il m’a frappé que je venais inauguré un étranger dans ma maison, et bien sûr il a dû être un jour où je n’avais pas le personnel! J’étais un peu en colère contre moi-même pour ces petits sentiments de méfiance, et je me suis tourné lithely vers la bibliothèque avec mon plateau de thé fumant.”
  3. The “re-translation”: “So I put some cookies on a plate, it hit me that I had just inaugurated a stranger in my house, and of course there had to be a day when I did not have the staff! I was a little angry against myself for these little feelings of mistrust, and I turned lithely to the library with my tea tray steaming.”

Funny, isn’t it? If you think that’s funny, take a look at this video made by a singer who puts song lyrics through multiple languages in Google Translate and then back to English. She’s got a ton of them. Don’t get stuck watching all of them. Not that that’s ever happened to me…

The Part in French

Cette fois, chers lecteurs, la partie française sera beaucoup plus courte. J’ai déjà écrit 1000 mots, et c’est beaucoup, n’est-ce pas ?? De toute façon, je voulais vous dire qu’effectivement, j’utilise Google Translate de temps en temps. Mais je vous préviens de faire attention si vous l’utilisez. C’est un bon outil, mais ce n’est pas une réelle traduction pour une vraie compréhension d’une langue.

Et si vous êtes pilote, ne dîtes pas ça : J’ai volé un Cessna de Denver à Albuquerque avec mon mari.

La police vous arrêtera !

Le mot du jour from Larousse.fr : (you can click on the word to go to their site, which includes a pronunciation of the word)


Se déplacer d’un mouvement uniforme et continu sur une surface lisse, unie, sans aspérité, ou donner cette impression.

Coulisser plus ou moins bien.

Perdre le contrôle de son équilibre, de sa direction en se déplaçant involontairement sur quelque chose de gras, de lisse, déraper ; voir sa trajectoire modifiée

glisser. Larousse.fr Retrieved March 15, 2016, from http://www.larousse.fr/dictionnaires/francais/glisser/37142#QhbCmGM7h1Xskghi.99

In English: To slip, skid, glide…

Ex:  “Mon père me prévient toujours du verglas sur les routes pour que je ne glisse pas quand je conduis. ”

“My dad always warns me about black ice on the roads so that I won’t skid when I am driving.



8 thoughts on “A to Z 2016 — Google Translate (and other online translators)

  1. Translation software only gives a general meaning, and can be useful in business and for technical manuals but has to be “cleaned up” by a real live person if it’s to be printed. For anything literary, it’s a waste of time, just go straight to a professional 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the visit! I love your blogs…your Carlton is too cute! sadly, blogger and Apple products are apparently not getting along this year and for whatever reason, I cannot comment on blogger (or rather *sometimes* I can, but it’s random. arrrgh! I found on line where it is an Apple problem. I am bummed because there are so many lovely blogger blogs on the A to Z that I want to comment on! 😦


  2. Trop funny! I know of a few of my followers who use Google Translators when I blog in French. It created some funny posts. I don’t use it but can easily see how it works and doesn’t work. Can help for short and traditionally built sentences but for more complex paragraphs it just doesn’t.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. and especially for “expressions” because in French I find that sometimes things mean exactly the opposite of what we might think is a “literal” translation…”Pas terrible?” for example!? And apparently, “s’en vouloir” also!


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