Google iPhone app a good use of Machine Translation

Google recently released a new iPhone app for instant translation. The app does a decent job with basic phrases and pronunciation.

Our stance on the use of Machine Translation as a full-fledged replacement of human translation has not changed. Machine translation is simply not ready to replace human translation for anything that carries any risk to the end user… period.

However, the use of Machine Translation for gisting or just trying to get the basic meaning of content is perfectly acceptable. Situations where the risk or cost of incorrect translation is low presents a perfect opportunity for using the Google Translate iPhone app.

I tested the app with English into Italian so I could properly gauge the quality of the translation. Here are some examples where the app did a nice job:

EN: When the world is your customer
IT from Google: Quando il mondo e vostro cliente.
{this was a decent effort at the translation of our slogan}

EN: Excuse me I have to use the restroom
IT from Google: Scusa me devo usare il bagno
{not perfect but acceptable, I would suggest using Scusami or Mi scusi, not scusa me}

EN: I would like to purchase stock in Google
IT from Google: Vorrei acquistare azioni di Google
{good job here, stock can obviously be understood in many different ways but the tool picked up the context and used the proper term in Italian azioni}

Here are some examples where the app did a less than stellar job:

EN: Where is the nearest movie theater
IT from Google: Dove è il teatro più vicino cinema
{this one is a little silly, the app doesn’t understand that movie theater is a compound noun and creates a silly but understandable translation by splitting the compound noun resulting in Where is the nearest theater cinema.}

EN: Merry Christmas to you and yours
IT from Google: Boun Natale a voi e la vostra
{the app doesn’t really understand colloquialisms, this is a silly translation – Merry Christmas to you and to yours}

EN: I have had a trying day
IT from Google: Ho avuto una giornata cercando
{another example of not understanding the nuance or context of a phrase, here the app translates trying literally resulting in I have a had a day trying}

The app has a nice voice recognition option so you can speak your request directly into the phone. The app then delivers the translation in written form. The written translation can also be displayed on the entire screen in landscape format when you turn the phone sideways. This is a nice option to easily display the text to someone you are trying to communicate with in person. The translation can also be played audibly to help you with the proper pronunciation {hopefully!}.

Overall, this is a nice app for travelers or people seeking a quick translation of phrases that carry little or no risk of mistranslation.