AI Translation - Not Ready for Prime Time?

Speaking gibberish

While working on the latest (D10) version of my blog, I wanted to add multilingual functionality.

Investigation suggested that in order to capture the largest language groups in the U.S./Canada a site should offer:

  • Latin American Spanish
  • Canadian French
  • Vietnamese
  • Tagalog (Filipino)
  • Mandarin
  • Arabic

Naturally I have considered multilingual functiuonality in the past, but it meant having to continuously translate every new and updated piece of content. That's a cost I couldn't justify, and still can't justify for a blog for just a second language let alone several.

Enter ChatGPT. 

I had heard that ChatGPT did a much better job translating content, in context, than Google. To tell the truth, I would have hoped that AI could beat existing automated translation with half its brain tied behind its back.

I once had a client in Australia with a car parts business. He opened a branch in Japan, choosing to use Google for translations. Sales were way below expectations. It turned out that Google's translation of the car-parts-related "bodies" was "corpses." This was something I couldn't take for granted...due diligence was mandatory

I provided folks who were fluent in English, as a second language, with content originally written in English, as well as a translation by ChatGPT. One translation was to Spanish, and the other, Tagalog.

I asked two things:

  • Rate the translation on a scale of 1 (awful) to 10 (perfect)
  • Tell me which would require more effort: bringing the translation up to a 10, or translating it manually

I was surprised by the results. The Spanish translation was so good that the second question became moot. The Tagalog translation was pretty bad. It was a case of a lot of literal translation without nuance or context. 

I'm speculating, but I think part of the problem relates to the amount of source material available for AI to ingest, and another part is that depending on the context, Tagalog's structure and usage can change quite a bit more than that of Spanish.

I'll have to wait awhile longer for AI-based translation to reach an acceptable level.

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