German to English translation services – man versus machine

As technology advances, machine translation is becoming better and better. But does Google Translate really give you a good enough result? Can you trust it for your German to English translation services?

Here’s what happened when we put an extract from the well-known fairy tale Hansel and Gretel through machine translation software.

Spoiler: the result is not what you’d expect.

The German reads:

lighting a fire
Weißt du was, Mann“, antwortete die Frau, „wir wollen morgen in aller Frühe die Kinder hinaus in den Wald führen, wo er am dicksten ist. Da machen wir ihnen ein Feuer an und geben jedem noch ein Stückchen Brot, dann gehen wir an unsere Arbeit und lassen sie allein. Sie finden den Weg nicht wieder nach Haus, und wir sind sie los.

Which Google Translate has translated as follows:

Do you know what, man,” replied the woman, “we will lead the children out into the forest early in the morning, where he is the thickest, and we will set fire to them and give each one a piece of bread, then Let’s go to our work and leave them alone, they will not find their way back home, and we’ll get rid of them.

It doesn’t seem so bad at first glance, does it? It uses full sentences, the spelling is correct, nothing sounds too clumsy…

But, on closer inspection…

He is the thickest”? Something’s not quite right here. It’s meant to be referring to the forest, but Google has failed to realise that inanimate objects cannot have a gender in English. Ok, it’s not ideal – but you can get away with it if you just want to understand the gist.

But now for the real howler. The more eagle-eyed among you will have spotted that, in the machine translation, the woodcutter’s wife suggests setting fire to Hansel and Gretel, instead of lighting a fire for them! I don’t know about you, but I always thought it was the witch that got burnt in this story, not Hansel and Gretel…

As you can see, what might look and sound like good English at first, may in fact hold hidden pit falls that completely change the meaning. And the scary thing is you may not even notice because the translation sounds okay.

So, if you opt to use machine translation instead of human German to English translation services, beware of those hidden mistakes. Who knows where they could crop up?!

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Disclaimer: All of the translation examples given in this blog represent the translation quality provided by the online translation tools in question at the time of publishing.