Li Zuo


Machine translation from English to Chinese: A study of Google’s performance with the UN documents
Li Zuo
Proceedings of the 9th Conference of the Association for Machine Translation in the Americas: Government MT User Program

The present study examines from users' perspective the performance of Google's online translation service on the documents of the United Nations. Since at least 2004, United Nations has been exploring, piloting, and implementing computer assisted translation (CAT) with Trados as an officially selected vehicle. A more recent development is the spontaneous adoption of Google translation among Chinese translators as an easy, versatile, and labor-saving tool. With machine translation getting real among developers and end-users, there seems to be a need to conduct a reality check to see how well it serves its purpose. The current study examines Google translation and its degree of assistance to the Chinese professional translators at the United Nations in particular. It uses a variety of UN documents to test and evaluate the performance of Google translation from English to Chinese. The sampled UN documents consist of 3 resolutions, 2 letters, 2 provisional agendas, 1 plenary verbatim, 1 report, 1 note by the Secretariat, and 1 budget. The results vindicate Google's cutting edge in machine translation when English to Chinese is concerned, thanks to its powerful infrastructure and immense translation database. The conversion between the two languages takes only an instant, even for a fairly long piece. On top of that, Google gets terminology right more frequently and seems better able to make an intelligent guess when compared with other translation tools like MS Bing. But Google's Chinese is far from intelligible, especially at the sentence level, primarily because of serious problems with word order and sentence parsing. There are also technical problems like adding or omitting words and erroneous rendering of numbers. Nevertheless, Google translation offers translators an option to work on its rough draft for the benefit of saving time and pain in typing. The challenges of post-editing, however, may offset the time saved. Even though Google translation may not necessarily net in speed gains when it is used to assist translation, it certainly is a beneficial labor saver, including mental labor when it performs at its very best.