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The Translation Experiment





Inspired by the quotation ‘If I am selling to you, I speak your language. If I am buying, dann müssen sie Deutsch sprechen’, we have conducted a little translation experiment between Spanish and English.

It is known that automated translation programs use different methods and rules to transform the source text into the targeted language. We'd like to test how good they are at translating Spanish into English, and how natural the text sounds to a native English speaker.

Words with different meanings are tricky for automated translators because the only way to translate correctly is to understand the context. Depending on the complexity, in some cases programs are not able to distinguish which


The Translation Experiment



translation to apply. The rule 80-20 is applicable here for human translators, who translate 80% of the text in 20% of the time, but then need to spend 80% of the time researching and translating  accurately the remaining 20% of the text.

Particularly problematic are, names (such as countries, organisations, people, etc.). Some names are different for each language and should be translated, while others need no translation and should be left as in the original. Automated translators often fail in such recognition, which can result in omitted or wrongly translated names, resulting in an inaccurate or confusing text.


The Object: Paragraph in Spanish of a well-known best-seller



Fragment of Los Pilares de la Tierra. Ken Follett


We’ve chosen a fragment of the book Los Pilares de la Tierra by Ken Follett, the Spanish version of The Pillars of the Earth.

Reading this paragraph, as a native Spanish speaker, I would never have thought it had been translated from English, despite the fact that the characters have English names. It maintains the author’s style and at the same time sounds natural to a Spanish ear.



The Subject: Two online based automated translators



In order to test the accuracy of automated translations, we have selected Google and Bing to check for differences and similarities. We pasted our Spanish paragraph and just a few seconds later ét voilà, a machine-based translation of 127 words for free. Now we wonder if they reflect what the original actually means.


Google Translation

Google Translation

Bing Translation

Bing Translation


In order for you to understand fully the Google and Bing translations, we have reproduced below the original text from the book The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett.


Our findings about automated translations


Regarding the translated texts of our experiment, both Google and Bing translations present errors. If you are a native English speaker you have probably noticed the unnatural sound of the translation and simple errors such as confusing Stephen King (the author) with King Stephen (the King!).

English has an extensive vocabulary, so there are many synonyms to choose from. However, the word choice in Google's translation is quite reduced. Some words are the direct opposite of the intended meaning: e.g. ‘punish’ should be ‘consent’. The syntax is extremely poor as to make nonsense of the original. The overall result is pure gibberish. Compared with the Google translation, Bing is marginally better, but it still suffers the same problems.

According to Anthony Burgess, ‘Translation is not a matter of words only: it is a matter of making intelligible a whole culture’. We can hardly agree more.

Google Translator

    Google Translator

Bing Translator

    Bing Translator




Listen and remember


Online automated translations may be helpful in some cases but if you need a translation that is guaranteed to be accurate, the best choice is a native translators agency.

In our opinion as experienced professionals, we agree on three basic rules for delivering the right translation:
     1.  Use of native translators
     2.  Accurate research
     3.  Attention to detail

At Floating Penguin we guarantee native, quality translations. Our translators and proofreaders are all native, experienced professionals qualified in English.



If you are looking for a Spanish translation agency based in the UK, we invite you to visit the page of our best clients and read about their experiences of working with us.

We specialise in both print and new media, translating and proofreading a wide range of literature from marketing to correspondence, including articles and company websites. We help our customers grow by getting their message across in new markets.



Our Recommendation



Entrust your translations to a translation agency with high work ethics and respect for the integrity of languages.

Before making any choice about the translation you need, we advise you to ask yourself: What do I need the translation for?

1. If the purpose of the translation is no more than understanding the meaning of articles and websites, a quick online translation may be handy. But be aware when purchasing because a mistranslation may cost you extra money. However, for language learners, depending on their level, a bilingual/monolingual dictionary would be more useful.

2. A professional translation is more appropriate for print and online publications. After years of experience in the translation field we only recommend native translators who have an excellent command of the English language for translating from English to their mother tongue. The best guarantee for a successful translation comes from using a native translator, for two main reasons: first, the result is better understood, and second, only the text that sounds natural will attract people from the new targeted market.

3. When a technical translation is required it will be more expensive. The reason is that the translator has to be an expert in that particular subject. Be careful choosing a trustworthy translation agency with good ethical business practices. To find out more, the blog Translation Ethics has a blacklist of translation agencies with poor ethical practices.






Thank you




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