Total fail of machine translation in case of Polish

Machine translation keeps getting better. You might think that its development poses a threat to professional translators. I believe that translators of the Polish language have nothing to worry about: automatic translation mechanisms still cannot handle the Polish language.

Want to see some examples that support my claim? Here you go:

Children are so pig-headed nowadays. –> Dzieci mają teraz takie świńskie głowy.

An automatic translation mechanism translates everything literally, word after word. Here, it completely failed to properly translate “pig-headed”. The equivalent Polish expression has nothing to do with pigs or heads – it’s “uparty jak osioł”, which translates to “stubborn as a donkey”. So the translation should actually look like this: „Dzieci są teraz uparte jak osły.” Completely different!

What in tarnation? –> Co w tarnation?

This expression used in the Southern U.S. should be translated as “Co do diabła?” (“What the devil?”). This is an excellent proof that machine translation mechanisms do not recognise dialect or slang and don’t even attempt to translate words that they don’t understand. The incorrect automatic translation could be interpreted as “What is happening in the town of Tarnation?”

I reckon you ain’t from these parts. –> Myślę, że nie jesteś z tych części.

Another “cowboy” expression from the South. Surprisingly enough, the machine translation mechanism handled the “I reckon” part correctly (even though I think that “wydaje mi się” sounds better here), but it completely failed at “these parts”. The Polish word “części” means e.g. mechanical parts, not the surrounding area – that would be “okolica”. So the translation should look like this: “Wydaje mi się, że nie jesteś z tej okolicy”.

I bet you ten thousand dollars he’s laughing his ass off right now. –> Założę się, że dziesięć tysięcy dolarów śmieje się teraz z jego tyłka.

And I’m laughing at this failed translation attempt. The proper translation should look like this: „Założę się z Tobą o dziesięć tysięcy dolarów, że śmieje się teraz do łez.” See how different that is from the machine translation? That’s because the translation algorithm completely failed to recognise the “to laugh one’s ass off” expression and tried to translate it literally. Not only that, it actually managed to twist the grammar around, too. The automatic translation reads: “I bet you that ten thousand dollars are laughing at his ass right now.” Hilariously inaccurate.

Don’t get your knickers in a twist –> Nie daj się skręcić majtkom

A ridiculous mistranslation of this British saying. It should be transcreated as “Nie wściekaj się tak” (“Don’t get so worked up”). Instead, what we got here is a pile of hilarious nonsense: “Don’t let the knickers twist you”. Idioms and local sayings truly are the Achilles’ heel of machine translation.

Mobile app stores are veritable goldmines of failed machine translations. Each automatically translated app description has something hilarious to offer. Here are just two examples among many (app names withheld to protect the innocent):

Train! – Used as a verb, but the machine translation algorithm did not catch that. Context is something that only human translators can take into account reliably. So, what did the algorithm come up with instead? „Pociąg!” Problem is, that’s the Polish word for train, the vehicle that runs on tracks. The app in question had nothing to do with trains – it was a fitness ap. The proper translation would be “Trenuj!”

Enter the Arena! – This should be translated as „Wejdź na Arenę!” (“Step into the Arena!”), „Walcz na Arenie!” (“Fight on the Arena!”), or something similar. Notice how “Arena” becomes “Arenę” or “Arenie” — that’s Polish declension, one of the biggest obstacles that machine translation still cannot overcome. And in this case it also proved too much to handle, for the automatic translator decided to go with “Wprowadź Arena!” which sounds absurd (roughly translates as “Introduce the Arena!”) and is not grammatically correct.

Many people unfamiliar with the Polish language may think that since machine translation is pretty good (although far from excellent) at translating to Spanish or Italian, they might as well use it to translate their texts to Polish, too. However, this method does not work with the Polish language at all. It is just too complicated and nuanced for even the best machine translation mechanisms. The Polish language has complicated declension, distinct and unavoidable genders, as well as tons of other complex rules that machine translation algorithms still cannot handle to this day.  And it’s definitely going to stay that way for a good while. That is why investing in the services of professional translators is always a great idea.

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