Online Translators: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Translations

Online translators can be lifesavers when you need something incomprehensible translated into your native language, but they have severe limitations and therefore extremely limited applications.

There are numerous problems with online translators, but the most important is quite simply that they cannot understand context, so for any word that has more that one possible translation – which is the majority of words – the translator cannot know which meaning is required. Most machine translators just give the most common translation of each word, though they might provide the user with other possibilities so that it’s up to the user to make the final call.

Learn more in our detailed comparison of the top online French translators.

Share your mistranslation adventures

What’s the best mistranslation you’ve ever seen? My personal favorite was at an Italian restaurant which offered a dish of “striped sailor.” I didn’t get to see the original Italian menu, but I assume it was something with marinara sauce. 🙂

Author info

Laura K Lawless

Laura is a French expert and in charge of Kwiziq's QC process. Online educator since '99, Laura is passionate about language, travel, and cooking. She's American by birth and a permanent ex-pat by choice - freelancing made it possible for her to travel extensively and live in several countries before settling permanently in Guadeloupe. Laura is the author of Lawless French, Lawless Spanish, and other websites and books on French, Spanish, Italian, English, and vegetarianism. She spends most of her spare time reading, playing with food, and enjoying water sports.

Comments: 2

My wife Carol is often translated as Chant de Noël.

Ha, good one! Thanks for sharing. :-)