Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Is Google Translate now "human"? (Or, fruit flies when you're having fun)

Much has been made of the new version of Google Translate that was quietly released in November. In my book, Flirting with French, I discuss how GT works (thanks to a terrific interview I was granted with a GT developer). But it was, back then, still a hit-and-miss proposition. But last month, Google released a version based on artificial intelligence (for French-English and Chinese-English) that was said to be noticeably superior.

So how is it? To find out how good the new GT really is,  I tested in both directions: first with a label from a French wine bottle that has hilariously been mistranslated by some machine translation program a few years ago, rendering such gems as "flavor of fishings" for "flavor of peaches," and my acid-test English phrase "Fruit flies like spoiled peaches." Both of these had given GT fits in the past.  The result?

"Fruit flies like spoiled peaches" was translated as Mouches des fruits comme les pêches gâtées, which in English reads "Fruit flies such as spoiled peaches" Utter failure. 👎  (Although this is an improvement over a previous translation of flying fruit).

However, the wine bottle label fared much better:

Cette cuvée est issue de l’assemblage de cépages Viognier et Clairette blanche de 88 ans, récoltée entièrement à la main, en caisses. Cela donne un vin de couleur jaune pâle avec des arômes de pêches et des fruits blancs. Servir entre 10 et 12°C, à l’apéritif, avec du foie gras, des poissons cuisinés ou des viandes blanches.

was translated as:

"This cuvée comes from the combination of Viognier and Clairette white grapes of 88 years, harvested entirely by hand, in boxes. This gives a pale yellow wine with aromas of peaches and white fruits. Serve between 10 and 12 ° C, as an aperitif, with foie gras, fish cooked or white meats."  👍

Previously GT had all the words more or less right, but couldn't put them together in a sentence. So perhaps there is hope for me in communicating in French after all!

Bonne année à tous! (Which is how GT said it. Hmm, I'd have gone with tous le monde...)


Flirting with French: How a Language Charmed Me, Seduced Me, and Nearly Broke My Heart now in its fourth printing. Order here or from your favorite bookseller.