It’s a shame to dry the fruit with old uncles

Google Translate Dry Fruit

My name is Jill. I own a translation agency. And yes, I use Google Translate – sometimes.

Machine translation is getting more and more sophisticated by the day, and it can be exceptionally useful. Its accuracy is amazing…sometimes. Sometimes it’s not, though, and the challenge for users is that you don’t know which you’re going to get, and when.

Early this morning, I was drinking a cup of coffee and messaging with my good friend in Israel on facebook. She writes to me in Hebrew, and I respond in English, but since my Hebrew isn’t what it used to be, I often paste her messages into Google Translate when I don’t fully understand.

In advance of traveling to Israel next week with my husband and our 12-year old son, I told her that I was thinking of reaching out to my grandmother’s cousin’s family while I was there, as it has been decades since I last saw them. Her response?

חבל לייבש את הפרי אצל דודים מבוגרים
“It’s a shame to dry the fruit with old uncles”

I was completely confused – until I realized that she had mistyped my son’s name by one letter. In doing so, my son Henry (הנרי), became “the fruit” (הפרי). That helped explain part of it, but it wasn’t until I asked for clarification that I learned that “to dry” is slang for dragging someone to something that will likely be boring (no offense to my grandma’s cousins, of course!).

Humans are, well, human. We make typos. We use slang. We enjoy humor and nuance. And as good as machines are at learning and predicting our behavior, they’re still not able to capture subtleties, nor are they consistently accurate enough for us to consistently trust them. And not all humans are good at that, either. Just because someone speaks a language doesn’t mean that they can translate well. Translation is part art and part science, and to convey the meaning and feeling of your message requires someone who understands the delicate balance between the two. That doesn’t mean that technology isn’t an essential part of the process – it just means it’s not the only part.

For chatting on facebook or reviewing documents for internal purposes, machine translation often does the job well enough. For informal documents, native speakers often do a great job translating. But when it really matters, use a professional translator, followed by a professional editor and proofreader, to make sure that your message, your voice and your brand reach your audience in the truest way possible.

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