When you engage a translation app, don’t disengage your brain!

Published on 26 August 2019 at 21:04

Translation apps and online thesauruses are very helpful for those of us working with a second language; however, we must be alert to the mistakes that can arise from their use.

At school, learning to use a calculator, I remember being told that I should always know what the magnitude of the answer would be: tens, hundreds, thousands etc. It is only too easy to make a mistake when keying in your figures. If you have a rough idea of the correct answer, you are more likely to notice if you make an error.

Well, I suggest that we need to take the same care when using a translation app or online thesaurus. Strange translations are often shared on social media as jokes, but such mistakes are only too easy to make when we are not completely familiar with the nuances of our second language.

Recently I heard a story of someone who was going to use the word vicious in an email but ultimately decided to look for a different word in an online thesaurus. Unfortunately they mistyped viscous instead and then chose to use slimy. Not quite the picture they wanted to create e.g. vicious crime, slimy crime, no, I don’t think so!

There is another problem with translation apps. They often only give you one option, and this is not a problem if you are just doing a quick confirmation, but many words have multiple meanings and usages, as you can see in a good dictionary. If you are not familiar with the word that comes up, then do a back check in a dictionary. If our friend from the previous paragraph had done that, they would have realised their mistake in time.

So my message is: don’t accept the output of a translation app as gospel. Check it first against your own knowledge, and when necessary, do a crosscheck with a dictionary.


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