Google Translate should be used responsibly

Omar Cruz-Zamora was pulled over by police while driving in Kansas City in October 2017.

The police officer used Google Translate to ask if he could search the car. Cruz-Zamora said yes, the officer found drugs and Cruz-Zamora was arrested.

This officer is just one of the more than half a billion people worldwide who use Google every day to translate more than 143 billion words in more than 100 languages.

These are staggering numbers.

People use Google Translate as a quick solution for travel, business, shopping, communicating with friends and relatives, you name it. It’s no wonder that Google Translate is everywhere. It’s fast, free and easy to use.

But is it being used appropriately? Mosaic thinks it may not be and we’re not alone.

Mosaic has provided award-winning translation and interpretation services in the Metro Vancouver area for more than 30 years. It’s part of Mosaic’s suite of services supporting newcomers as they build new lives in Canada.

We’ve noted the growing popularity of Google Translate. Some are predicting the end of the translator and interpreter professions.

The judge in the Cruz-Zamora case in Kansas City isn’t among them. He relied on the testimony of two professional interpreters to conclude that Cruz-Zamora was confused about what the police officer asked.

They called it a literal translation that didn’t make sense in the context in which it was used. In his ruling, the judge suppressed the evidence found in the car, stating that it wasn’t reasonable to rely on Google Translate to obtain consent for what would otherwise be an illegal search.

Perhaps it’s obvious that Google Translate shouldn’t be used for legal matters. But what about when health-care professionals are communicating with non-English-speaking newcomers, or teachers or day-care workers are talking with newcomer parents about their children, or employers are providing safety or on-the-job training?

In many cases, using Google Translate will suffice — its accuracy has been improving.

But as with many new technologies, there are limits to when Google Translate should be used.

The Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria has a lot of experience using Google Translate. It has partnered with Google Translate on a project called We Speak Translate. More than 2,300 community members have been trained to use the tool to communicate with newcomer refugees in low-stakes situations, but not where accuracy and clarity are critical.

Google Translate officials acknowledge limitations to its use. The engineering director at Google Translate, Macduff Hughes, was quoted recently by BBC as saying, “You should use it when you need to communicate and understand and you have reasonable tolerance for mistakes.”

Joss Moorkens, an assistant professor at the School of Applied Language and Intercultural Studies at Dublin City University, goes further. He says machine translation is best used “in informal, low-risk situations, where errors can hopefully be laughed off.”

The barriers that newcomers face when settling in Canada are no laughing matter. Poor translations and interpretations of critical content only make the process harder.

It’s incumbent on all of us to set limits on how we use machine translation and think twice before we “google it.”

Olga Stachova is CEO of Mosaic (Multi-lingual Orientation Services Association for Immigrant Communities).

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Whatever snow may possibly fall in Red Deer on the weekend will melt when it hits the warm ground, says meteorologist Kyle Fougere with Environment and Climate Change Canada. (File photo by ADVOCATE staff)
Weather expected to get warmer next week in Red Deer

It’s going to be a cold weekend, according to Environment Canada. Saturday… Continue reading

Retired city manager Craig Curtis will argue for keeping the Molly Banister Drive right-of-way at Tuesday's public hearing. He warns of future gridlock if the extension is removed by city council. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
Former Red Deer city manager warns killing the Molly Banister Drive extension is ‘a terrible mistake’

Craig Curtis will argue for keeping the road alignment at next week’s public hearing

Alberta has 3,651 active cases of COVID-19. (File photo)
432 new COVID cases sets another record Friday

Central zone holds steady at 126 active cases

A Red Deer County man was arrested for drug possession by Innisfail RCMP on April 19. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Property crime and drugs top Red Deer RCMP priorities in new plan

2020-2022 Policing Priorities Plan going to city council on Monday

RCMP estimate about 500 people gathered on the weekend near Garrington Bridge along the Red Deer River, in a July 28, 2020 story. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Second person charged for alleged assault at anti-racism rally in Red Deer

A second person is facing charges following an alleged assault during an… Continue reading

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson, B.C. NDP leader John Horgan and B.C. Greens leader Sonia Furstenau. (Black Press Media)
VIDEO: One day until B.C. voters go to the polls in snap election defined by pandemic

NDP Leader John Horgan’s decision to call an election comes more than a year ahead of schedule and during a pandemic

Alice Kolisnyk, deputy director of the Red Deer Food Bank, says the agency expects an increase in demand as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Every new subscription to the Red Deer Advocate includes a $50 donation to the food bank. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Support the food bank with a subscription to the Red Deer Advocate

The community’s most vulnerable members are always in need of a hand,… Continue reading

A voter places her absentee ballot in the ballot box, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, at Merrill Auditorium in Portland, Maine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Robert F. Bukaty
American voters living in Canada increasingly being counted in presidential race

The largest number of Canadian-based American voters cast their ballots in New York and California

This photo provided by Air Force Reserve shows a sky view of Hurricane Epsilon taken by Air Force Reserve hurricane hunter team over the Atlantic Ocean taken Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020.   Epsilon’s maximum sustained winds have dropped slightly as it prepares to sideswipe Bermuda on a path over the Atlantic Ocean.  The National Hurricane Center says it should come close enough Thursday, Oct. 22, evening to merit a tropical storm warning for the island.  (Air Force Reserve via AP)
Hurricane Epsilon expected to remain offshore but will push waves at Atlantic Canada

Epsilon is not expected to have any real impact on land

A composite image of three photographs shows BC NDP Leader John Horgan, left, in Coquitlam, B.C., on Sept. 25, 2020; BC Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau, centre, in Victoria on Sept. 24, 2020; and BC Liberal Party Leader Andrew Wilkinson Pitt Meadows, B.C., on Sept. 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck, Chad Hipolito
British Columbia votes in snap election called during COVID-19 pandemic

NDP Leader John Horgan called the snap election one year before the fixed voting date

Nunavut's provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, on Tuesday June 30, 2020. The annual report from Nunavut's representative for children and youth says "complacency and a lack of accountability" in the territory's public service means basic information about young people needing services isn’t tracked. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Nunavut’s young people ‘should be expecting more’ from government services: advocate

‘The majority of information we requested is not tracked or was not provided by departments’

kk
Don’t try to teach a turtle tricks

I got Smokey at Woolworths. Woolworths was an awesome department store downtown,… Continue reading

New voluntary measures, including the encouragement of more mask wearing, have been introduced in the Edmonton health zone. “Red Deer has been very fortunate to have relatively low case numbers . . . relative to the rest of the province and the country,” says Mayor Tara Veer. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
POLL: Should Alberta have stricter rules to help prevent the spread of COVID-19?

Should Alberta have stricter rules to help prevent the spread of COVID-19?… Continue reading

Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Walker Buehler throws against the Tampa Bay Rays during the first inning in Game 3 of the baseball World Series Friday, Oct. 23, 2020, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Buehler leads Dodgers over Rays 6-2 for 2-1 Series lead

Buehler leads Dodgers over Rays 6-2 for 2-1 Series lead

Most Read