For many casual users, understanding online content that’s not in your native language means one thing: resorting to Google Translate. While Google Translate is far from an ideal experience, for anyone willing to stumble through a lot of questionable phrases and awkwardly constructed sentences, it may be possible to go grasp rough meaning from the context.
But there are instances when even Google can fail, especially when it encounters a language it is simply not equipped to deal with. Here are just a few of the languages an experienced translator can help you with, that Google is humbled by.
There are still 790,000 people in South America that speak the Mayan language from a culture that was nearly annihilated by a combination of cultural decline and cultural imperialism. In many ways, Mayan itself is representative of many “endangered” languages throughout South, Central and North America, all of which are indigenous and largely spoken by people that originally inhabited these areas and were pushed to the brink of cultural erasure by the more powerful forces of colonizers from other countries.
Throughout Pakistan and Afghanistan, over 40 million people speak Pashto. So why is this language not available in Google Translate? As with many of the other languages here, there is no “commercial value” in translating Pashto, as it is not seen as a major language of financial or intellectual exchange, despite the sizable population fluent in it.
22 million people of African descent count themselves among those that speak Amharic. While it is primarily used in Ethiopia, there are sizable segments of immigrants that have brought the language to other countries. It is, for example, the most common African language spoken in California. It’s also got a significant number of speakers in Israel.
Tatar, Bakshir, and Kyrgyz are all regions within Russia that have distinct languages. The populations in these areas are large enough to support several million people speaking these languages actively. Google once again lets these people down, although there are local online services that do provide some support of these languages.
When J.R.R. Tolkien created the Lord of the Rings saga, he went the extra mile of creating entire, complete fictional languages, rife with songs, traditions, and fully structured grammatical principles. Elvish—formally known as Sindarin—is one of these languages. While people the world over have taken the trouble to learn the language, especially thanks to the explosive popularity of the movies, Google hasn’t felt it was worth the trouble to provide Translate functionality, even though they’ve decided that Esperanto, another artificial language, was worth the effort. Ironically, Yandex, a Russian service that translates Russian dialects online, has decided that Elvish is a worthwhile linguistic pursuit, so there are Elvish translation services available online, just not from Google.
For a humorous look at what happens to lyrics in Google Translate, check out Google Translate Sings on YouTube.
As always, Google Translate can be useful in situations requiring a quick and dirty translation fix. But at least in the here and now, it’s still far less reliable than an experienced human translator. If you need reliable, high-quality translation services, take a look at what we have to offer.