You may have noticed recently that Facebook has started offering the option to ‘See Translation’, if one of your friends has a status message or comment written in another language. These translation services are provided by Bing (i.e. Microsoft), in one of a multitude of copycat services first provided to the internet by Google. I have always used Google Translate, but which is better?
Here is a common example. One of my friends is French, and currently looking to buy a house. She’s been having trouble finding one that suits, and starts by saying in English, “Why do houses always look better on adverts than in reality?”
This is a exchange between her and a friend, so we’ll just refer to them individually as A and B.
B replies: vous avez visite une maison?
Bing Translation: you visit a House?
Google Translation: you visit a House?
A says: Oui, mais c’est pas pour nous – trop à faire. Je desespère un peu…
Bing Translation: Yes, but it’s not for us – too much to do. I desespère a little…
Google Translation: Yes, but it’s not for us – too much to do. I despair a little …
B says: oh bien alors ma poulette. Si tu as besoin de quoi que ce soit, n’hesite pas.
Bing Translation: oh good then my pullets. If you need what anyone, not hesitate step
Google Translation: oh well then my chick. If you need anything, do not hesitate
My friend’s husband then chips into the conversation and says: On a besoin d’une maison.
Bing Translation: There is a need of a House.
Google Translation: We need a home.
Now, I don’t speak French, but that is rather the point. The purpose of translation services is to help me make sense of what people are saying. Just from this little anecdote we can see that Bing seems OK with short, simple sentence structures, but quickly becomes erratic when handling anything more complex.
Google easily wins here – its translations make the most sense, gramatically and conversationally. Bing’s inability to translate a word as evident as ‘poulette’ is very poor. One wonders at Facebook’s motivation in choosing Bing as their partner in this endeavour as clearly it’s very easy for monkey to see, but harder for monkey to do.