Google Translate serves up 'scummy Welsh' translations

| Updated Jul 31, 2018 at 5:24pm



It is an amazing piece of technology - put a sentence in a box and see it translated into any of 103 languages. But what impact for good or bad does Google Translate have on a minority language?

That is what we explore in Click for Cymraeg, a BBC Radio Wales programme looking into how the search giant's translation service has affected the Welsh language.

It was in August 2009 that Welsh arrived on Google Translate, relatively early in the history of a service which was launched in 2006.

"The reason was that it worked," says Macduff Hughes, the engineering director leading the project.

"Google Translate is built by finding language data on the web."

There were enough examples of Welsh translations online for Google's computers to crunch and build a machine translation service of sufficient quality.

That was the theory at least. But not everyone agreed about the quality.

Very quickly people began to spot that Google Translate was often throwing up mangled or nonsensical sentences.

And often, according to the comedian Gary Slaymaker, these were making their way into public documents and signage when companies saw an easy way of cutting the cost of translation.

"Rather than pay for a living breathing Welsh translator they'll put their translations through Google Translate and end up with word porridge," he says.