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Google Translate in Mobile Apps: How Can It Make or Break Your App?

You have your mobile app ready, your language ready, and you know you want to localize to the language needs of, say, a Spanish-speaking audience. But you don’t know anything about foreign languages or about translation. So, you Google it, and the first thing that pops up automatically is that you should use Google Translate in mobile apps.

So, should you use it? Is it reliable? Is it accurate? This article will show the advantages and the disadvantages of using Google Translate for this industry, as well as its alternatives.

Google Translate May Be Good For Your Mobile App In The Future

To know the advantages and disadvantages of Google Translate, we must first fully understand what it is. It is artificial intelligence (AI), which is capable of machine learning. It was first developed as a statistical automated translation service, wherein everything had to be translated to English first before it translated into other languages. So back then, it couldn’t understand grammar rules or various differences between languages when it came to sentencing structure.

That’s not the case now. Now, it can scan pictures for document translation. It can automatically identify your language based on your speech and can translate your whole speech just by speaking into it. But these developments took time to develop. As it is still developing on its own with machine learning, and with the new technological advancements to come, Google Translate is bound to get better with time, sort of like aged wine.

So, that’s the history, but what are its advantages? Well, it’s a free app, made by the tech giant. It translates into 109 languages. It’s a mobile app itself, available also online and on desktop. And, it’s convenient, for when you are trying to translate a menu or overheard conversation: it’s like having a translator in your pocket. But, is it?

Mobile App Incompatibility With Google Translate, As It Is Now

According to the Atlantic, Google Translate is shallow and doesn’t have a good understanding of language. It’s true, to a certain extent. (As we’ve said previously, Google Translate is made from state-of-the-art AI and is continuing to change–it may be shallow now, but might not be in the future). In its shallowness, Google Translate is not only inaccurate but cannot notice the ambiguities in language that human translators can.

Last year, it rolled out a new feature, speech transcription, which allows you to dictate speech in real-time, and then the app will translate for you. As much as it can detect real language, from these features, it can’t notice the cultural subjectivities of those languages used. And, as much as it relays languages, it doesn’t know them.

So what does this have to do with mobile apps? I’ll let you in on a tip: don’t use Google Translate to translate your content on mobile apps. Any developer will tell you that. Even Google themselves will tell you to use human translation instead. Their reason for the incompatibility is twofold: UI uses content that isn’t common, and because mobile apps use context-specific language.

So, the verdict is out: Google Translate and mobile app translation are incompatible.

Why Is A Translation Agency More Compatible With Mobile Apps?

Ask Google why you should use human translations and you will find:

Google Translate in Mobile Apps - Why use human translations

Human translation refers to either an in-house team or a professional translation agency. Businesses in the mobile app industry might have an in-house team for their translation needs, which knows their own needs very well. For mobile app marketers and developers who don’t specialize in localization, a translation agency provides a human advantage to language: cultural intricacies, customer service support, and human agents, along with AI tools. They provide a different level of translation than Google Translate.

I’ll go into detail and expand the outline above so that you can understand why human translation is needed rather than machine translation like Google Translate:

  1. Target audience – If you’re looking to localize for a target audience in Sweden with a mobile app for a juice company, you might use the word “juice cleanse.” Google Translate translates this from Sweden to English as “I’m wearing a juice.” The target audience is very important because you need to communicate with that audience you want to turn into consumers. If they suddenly want to wear your product, instead of drink it, it will have hilariously disastrous consequences for me, and low profits for your company. Human translators know the subjectivities of language–from idioms to trends.
  2. The context in which the text string will appear – Developers, project managers, and translators will need to collaborate with each other to determine the language and cultural context of the string they are coding.
  3. Nuances that are specific to the country or language – The linguistic necessities of a certain language are apparent for translators, specifically cultural specificities, like an untranslatable word. In that case, they will need context to translate that word as accurately as possible.

And I’ll add some more information to show how translation services may benefit in a different way than an in-house team:

  1. Proven expertise in their field – Services that specialize in translation will already have traction in their field, and thus more specialized knowledge, whereas smaller in-house teams may still be building their audience.
  2. Relevant experiences – Translation services, more often than not, have already handled similar cases like yours, and already have relevant experience in the mobile app industry.
  3. Variety of services – Translation is not just one field–it also covers the fields of interpreting, transcribing, localizing, and more, which may help if you’re looking to incorporate audio-visual elements into your mobile app.

I hope you found this article on using Google Translate in mobile apps helpful. The decision from a technical perspective is very simple, although the cost of human translations might be more its well worth including in your budget.


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