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Are You Google Translating Spanish to English? (Video)

Posted in: Ecuador Travel, Everything Expat, Language Learning, Living in Ecuador

Chances are if you are living or traveling in a Spanish speaking country you will use Google Translate at some point.

Google Translate can be a help but it can also mess you up.

Google translate Spanish and English

Google Translate = Embarrassing Situation

When we moved to Ecuador I used Google Translate (I didn’t know any Spanish) to prepare for a conversation I was about to have. I needed to talk to someone about something I wanted them to do and tell them that I would be back the following week to ask them if they did it. I ended up telling them that I would be back the next week to “argue” with them about it! I had wanted to tell them that I would be back to continue the conversation, but instead I ended up saying that I would be returning to continue the argument!

Imagine how embarrassed I was when a friend pointed out my mistake and then told me about the pitfalls of using Google Translate. I was a little worried about how things would go when I returned to “argue” with those victims of my poor Spanish. Thankfully they were very patient and seemed happy to see me again. It has been our experience that Ecuadorians are very understanding and forgiving when we gringos make mistakes while learning the language.

(Bryan found the following video and it was the inspiration for this post. We thought it was really funny and highlighted the experience that is so common to everyone trying to learn Spanish and use Google Translate as a resource. We hope you like it…)

Language Fun With Google Translate

Watch on YouTube

Translation And Context

Google Translate can be a good tool but the problem comes in because there is more than one way to translate the meaning of a word.

For example the word I used for “to converse” was discutir. Discutir can mean to discuss, to debate or to argue. More commonly here in Ecuador it means “to argue.” Google Translate being the machine it is, did not know that I wanted to converse and not argue. It could not pick up on the context of the sentence I had typed into it. Conversar would have been the more appropriate word.

If you type in English and have it translated into Spanish it can help to copy and paste the Spanish results into the typing box and switch the translation to English to see if the results are the same. The results can be surprising 🙂

We still use Google Translate but now we often type in Spanish and have it translated into English. It usually gives us a pretty good idea if we have the conjugation correct. But we still consult dictionaries and other Spanish learning books (like 501 Spanish Verbs) to make sure that we are not way out in left field. Sometimes we still use Google translate to get the sense of a newspaper article – especially if it is a topic we aren’t familiar with.

There is no doubt that we still make a lot of mistakes, but they are less because we know the dangers of only using Google Translate.

Do you have any funny Google Translate stories to share? Please share them with us by commenting on this post.

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Meet the Author

Dena Haines is co-editor of GringosAbroad - Ecuador's largest blog for expats and travelers. She is a travel blogger and content marketer. She is also co-founder of ClickLikeThis (GoPro tutorial blog) and Storyteller Media (content marketing for travel brands). Work with GringosAbroad.

12 comments… add one
  • Sandra Aug 27, 2014, 10:14 pm

    Haha, learning to properly use Google Translate is an art… I personally use it in combination with a couple of other sites, like linguee.com. In case anyone needs translation services in Ecuador from Spanish to English or English to Spanish, please check out my website and get in touch!

  • TerryDarc Mar 1, 2014, 11:45 am

    Very, very funny video and a clever idea. Of course, computer translation is going to fall short and, as far as I can see, will continue to lack a certain je ne sais quoi for the foreseeable future.

    Just a note that if you use Google Chrome as a browser, the translation happens (at least for me) automatically, with an option to not translate a particular page. Also very cool is the ability to highlight/select an area on the screen and automatically see the original text. That’s really useful when the fractured English that comes back is a bit too broken to understand. Then you can haul out your paper dictionary or other online source.

    What they will eventually do is offer alternatives for a particular word or phrase and let you selected the best. The point is that the integration of Chrome + Google Translate makes for an easier translation. I tried it on your El Mercurio and Tiempo links. Thanks!

  • Joanna Oct 21, 2013, 2:58 pm

    Nice post. I too like to use Google Translate but agree with your assessment 100%. It really can get you into trouble. Earlier this year we discovered some other free resources for learning Spanish and love them, like dulingo and memrise. Even though we’re just beginners and only prepping for relating abroad, anything free is a huge bonus to us.
    Here is more info, if you anyone is interested: http://www.abroaddreams.com/2013/10/20/learn-spanish-for-retirement/

  • Stewart Aug 28, 2013, 3:01 am

    Hi Dena,
    Yes cool video. Looks like you had a lot of fun putting it together.
    I personally use spanishdict.com which helps but also has limitations.
    Sometimes it doesn’t find the word like a trade word used in construction.

    Best to you and Bryan,
    Stewart

  • SOnia and Frank Aug 24, 2013, 7:04 pm

    I AS WELL AS MY HUSBAND HAVE ENJOYED YOUR BLOG YOU HAVE BEEN VERY KNOWLEDGEABLE .
    I HAVE NOT YET GOT ON GOOGLE. I WILL TRY THIS WEEKEND. IN OCTOBER WE WILL BE IN CUENCA
    TO GET OUR RESIDENCY PENSIONADO WE USED GRACE VELASTEGUI VERY INFORMATIVE AND TO
    THE POINT OF WHAT IS NEEDED.
    ATENTAMENTE,
    SONIA AND FRANK

  • Jim Bob Aug 23, 2013, 7:34 am

    Hilarious video! Thanks for sharing.

    Rather than use Google Translate, we’re actually learning the language through Mango, which is free to use through our library. Praying for a chance to put it into practice with a visit to Cuenca.

    • Dena Haines Aug 27, 2013, 6:26 pm

      Hi Jim Bob, I’m glad to hear that Mango is working for you.

      We’ve been immersed in Spanish for the past 4 years and we still use Google Translate to help out when we need to say new things, or hear something we are not familiar with. It can also be used kind of like a dictionary.

      If you immerse yourself in Spanish (spending time with the locals rather than English speakers) when you visit Cuenca you will probably find yourself turning to Google Translate at some point 🙂 Language courses don’t cover everything…

      Thanks for your comment and I’m glad you liked the video, we’ve watched it over and over.

  • Ralph Sabean Aug 21, 2013, 8:41 pm

    I really enjoyed the time we spent with family and such wonderful new friends in Ecuador. We do hope if our health holds up to make one more trip to our home away from home. The fresh fruit I really miss almost as much as my walks with my Grandson Jaymin. He translated for me many times so I decided to learn the Spanish language too. There are some very hard barriers I have to climb but I won’t give up easily. Buenas noches to all my friends in Cuenca Town and Vilcabamba.

  • Jason Aug 21, 2013, 4:34 pm

    I am currently using google translate frequently, but I’m afraid of having the same outcome as your “argument”. I found spanishdict.com and that site returns results from three different translation systems so I usually take all four translations and try to find the best combination of results.

  • Karen Aug 21, 2013, 4:25 pm

    “If you type in English and have it translated into Spanish it can help to copy and paste the Spanish results into the typing box and switch the translation to English to see if the results are the same.”

    I picked up on this early :-). It’s exactly what I’ve been doing before “launching” my Spanish live.

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