Last Tuesday, Google announced that its email service, Gmail will soon include the option to have emails automatically translated. Although this option had been previously available via Gmail Labs, where Google tests out different features, now this option will appear for all Gmail users.
This new feature has important implications for people emailing across languages, particularly for businesses that need to communicate with local teams around the world. As explained by Google, this move was in response to the positive reception this service had received while it was still a part of Gmail labs.
While some people in the translation industry might denounce the move as further reducing the need for human translators, I would have to disagree. I believe that most people will use this service in a way that is similar to that described by CNN journalist John D. Sutter who stated “Like many people, I use Google Translate as a starting point for translation, but don’t necessarily trust that it will get everything right. It’s great for getting the gist of a news story that’s published in Japanese or Finnish, but if I need to write a formal letter to someone in one of those languages, I’d get human help.” In other words, I believe that most people will use this service for informal or personal emails, situations where they were not using professional translators to begin with. Therefore, having this service already in Gmail will simply make their lives easier, and will not lessen the need for human translators.
I think that most users of automatic translations realize that the output they are going to receive will be far from perfect. For example, my mom uses Google Translate occasionally when she has to translate emails into Spanish. Once, when writing an email to my Spanish-speaking boyfriend, she used Google Translate to figure out how to say, “You are welcome” in response to my boyfriend telling her “thank you.” Based on the Google Translate output, she wrote “Usted es bienvendio,” which is what you would say when welcoming someone into a place (like “Welcome to my home”). While my boyfriend and I got a good laugh from the email, it is just one example of how a machine translation is not perfect. However, in some instances, it is all that is needed. On the other hand, translation agencies such as Trusted Translations can be used for more formal translation needs. Trusted Translations can even provide you with a Free Quote if you are looking for an accurate and reliable translation (in other words, if you want to avoid situations such as the one experienced by my mother).