Google Translate vs. Bing Translate

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Just stumbled over a post announcing that Yelp will be using Microsoft Bing (rather than Google) to translate reviews on its iPhone app. I suppose this is noteworthy because one never thinks of Microsoft beating Google at anything (though I must say I like Bing maps better than Google maps, usually).

Normally, I use Google Translate, but just for fun, I typed the passage from the Garcia Lorca poem pictured above into both Google and Bing to compare. The poem, by the way, is called Casida del herido por el agua (Casida of the one wounded by water). According to Wikipedia, a casida (or qasida) is “a form of Perso-Arabic lyric poetry.”

From the translation by Paul Archer:

I want to go down to the well,
I want to climb onto Granada's walls
to gaze at the heart impaled 
on water's hidden spike.

It’s a lovely piece, though a mysterious one.

Here are the two machine translations:

Google:

Want to go down the well,
I want to climb the walls of Granada,
Heart to look at the past
By the dark waters of the punch.

Bing:

I want to go down to the well,
I want to climb the walls of Granada,
To watch the last heart
By dark waters punch.

Granted, poetry is especially hard to translate, and neither is very close on the last two lines — why do they both associate oscuro (dark) with las aguas (the water) instead of with punzon (punch, awl, or pick, according to my dictionary)? Still, comparing the two, I’d say Bing did the better job.

Unfortunately, Bing doesn’t translate Filipino (Tagalog), or any other Filipino languages, so I can’t give up on Google translate yet. And clearly, it will be a while before machine translation will do as well as a human translator. Mostly, it’s handy for gaps in your vocabulary.


Image: A plaque on one of the exterior walls of the Alhambra, Granada, Spain. It’s a tribute to Garcia Lorca on the centennial of his birth. Photo: Nina Zumel

5 thoughts on “Google Translate vs. Bing Translate

  1. I once found a Japanese machine translation of Beethoven’s name listed as “Ludwig Station Wagon Beethoven” rather than Ludwig van Beethoven. It appeared that the machine determined that “van” referred to a moving vehicle.

  2. Last month, while working on a translation project, I used Bing a few times. It was when I was absolutely stumped and Google Translate just wasn’t cutting it and thought that I’d give Bing a try. It was more spot on in these instances. I don’t know why or if if was just a coincidence. Sometimes, I get lost tracking a long German sentence and these run-ons can become mangled in machine translators.

    • In the case above, I think it’s a case of Google getting too clever. The Bing translation is closer to a transliteration of the last two lines (‘for to look at the heart passed through // by the punch dark of the waters”). Just a couple of switches of noun/adjective order to English, and the wrong (but statistically more likely) translation for “pasado”. Google completely mangled the sentence.

      Didn’t you and I have some fun with a Google translation of something German that I was trying to read, once? If the machine translators can’t keep track of which adjective goes with noun in Spanish, I can imagine how bad German must get… Anyway, it’s probably good to have both, since between two bad translations you might be able to piece out the actual meaning. Maybe.

  3. Yes, but I can’t remember. Oh, dear, the German can certainly get choppy. I find Google and now Bing handy for idiomatic phrases. But…. I do think Bing (as of right now) is limited in that it doesn’t offer different suggestions for a meaning like Google does. Its grammar is pretty decent though. I once turned to Babelfish in desperation–keep away!

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