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I come across people translating their websites into other languages quite often. They do it via free translation services such as Babel Fish. Every time I read something translated into Russian that way, it makes me cringe. Yes, you can probably relay the gist of it via such translation, but at the expense of all grammar and occasionally simple sense.

As a test, I decided to translate a passage from one of my recent posts. I picked the second paragraph of this one, which went:

I am actually spending the best hours of the day in office, since most of my current job has to do with the States, so I am lightly occupied until about 1:30, and then very heavily through the afternoon, eventually peeling myself away from the issue of the day at around seven. Good thing it does not get dark until after nine. On the bright side, my parents are extremely lucky to be able to rediscover London – walking for hours, no less, – in such pristine conditions.

Babel Fish produced the following excellent translation:

Я фактическ провожу самые лучшие часы дня в офисе, в виду того что большая часть из моей в настоящее время работы должна сделать с положениями, поэтому я светло не занять до около 1:30, и после этого очень тяжело через после полудня, окончательн слезая прочь от события дня в пределах 7. Хорошая вещь она не получить темноту до после 9. На яркой стороне, мои родители весьма удачливейши для того чтобы мочь переоткрыть london – гуляющ на часы, никак более менее, – в таких pristine условиях.

Those of my readers who do not speak Russian will have to trust me when I say that this paragraph is not so much in Russian, as it contains Russian words strung together semi-haphazardously (including a couple of derivatives that I never knew existed in the language) and with little respect for grammar. I cannot ascertain whether a person not familiar with the English narrative would understand what this discourse was about.

Taking that near-gibberish and translating it back into English yields the following passage:

I is actual I carry out the best hours of day in the office, in the form of the fact that large part from my at present work must make with the positions; therefore 4 light to not engage to about 1:30, and after this it is very heavy through afterward noon, it is final descending away from the event of day in limits of 7. Good thing it not to obtain the darkness to afterward 9. On the bright side, my parents are very lucky in order to can to reopen london – gulyayushch for the hours, in no way is more less, under such pristine conditions.

Let me emphasize how “walking” ended up as that too-oftenly-used English idiom, “gulyayushch”…

I think professional literary translators can sleep easy – their jobs are in no danger from technology…

[update May 12th]
I realized that for the experiment to be scientifically correct, I need to make another comparison.

Here is the original passage, translated into proper Russian (translation by yours truly):

На самом деле, я провожу лучшее время дня на работе, поскольку моя новая должность связана со Штатами, и я очень мало занят до 1:30, а потом весьма сильно всю вторую половину дня, заставляя себя оторваться от текущих проблем только около семи. Хорошо хоть, что темнеет сейчас только после девяти. С положительной точки зрения, моим родителям крупно везёт, что они могут заново исследовать Лондон – проводя много времени на ногах, между прочим, – в таких прекрасных условиях.

This is what Babel Fish produced:

In reality, I carry out the better time of day on the work, since my new post is connected with the states, and I am very little occupied to 1:30, and then very strongly entire second-half of day, forcing itself to be detached away from the current problems only about seven. It is good although which grows dark now only after nine. From a positive point of view, to my parents it is large of [vezet], what they can anew investigate London – carrying out much time on the feet, by the way, under such excellent conditions.

Uh, ok, quite reasonable, as a matter of fact, but illustrates my initial point rather perfectly.


  1. Ilya

    There is little doubt that cutting simple sentences and using common phrases allows the online translator to be consistent. Check out “on the bright side, my parents are extremely lucky”…

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