Machine translation errors

Today we all have access to an automatic translator, and it is true that we are often tempted to use this tool. But only a few uses are enough to realize that these tools are not always effective. Indeed, they provide literal translations in its raw state, without taking into account the cultural and contextual dimension, which is essential to any professional translator. This is why machine translation errors are frequent.
Although computers have stolen the spotlight from humans in many areas, these tools are not about to replace professional translators. Here are the main reasons.

Type of document

First, this tool is very general. The reason is simple: it’s supposed to fit any type of document. And that’s where the worst enemy of machine translation tools comes in: polysemy. You will find below a small example that should make you smile, where the computer obviously did not understand that the word “advocat” does not have the same meaning in a legal context as in a culinary context.


Translation model

Another flaw: the translation model. These tools compare numerous collections of texts and draw translation rules from them. Despite these rules, for each new translation, the professional translator is faced with new issues which only they alone can solve by making choices. These choices cannot be made by the software.

Some examples
machine translation errors




Here, the software has translated a common name for a piece of clothing into a trademark.


Here, polysemy has again led to a computer error. In fact the verb “sauter” in French can be translated as to jump, or to skip in English, depending on the context. No luck for these far from being perfect tools, here skip should have been used to correctly render the meaning of the initial sentence.

We continue our series of errors with examples below. How can we forget the publication of Benyamin Netanyahou who had the opportunity to meet “François Pays-Bas”. Here, the automatic translation tool suggested by a famous social network gave rise to a particularly amusing result in French.


On more for the road? In January 2012, the Ministry of Defense site of a country in Southeast Asia published an article on the clothing of its officials. According to these recommendations, they should not wear clothes which “they were not to wear “eye-catching” clothing, but “mongoose fighting” uniforms were permitted. Understand who can… The Department quickly removed these translations, putting the responsibility for this blunder on the back of a famous machine translation company.

In addition, in a medical or legal context, a bad translation could have serious consequences.
In conclusion, always be cautious of this type of tool. They can be useful in some cases, but their limits must never be overlooked. Our advice is to always use professional translation services.

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