Google Translate was my best friend when I first moved to Serbia. Thank goodness I entered an intercultural relationship in the year 2016 and not 1916… I could not imagine how difficult it would have been to do it all without the technological advances of this day and age.
Google Translate can be a massive help or an unfortunate hinderance when it comes to learning a new language and communicating with others in a different language. I’m lucky enough now to not need it for any sort of basic conversation, but I’m seeing it all from a new perspective as my parents and in-laws have been using it to communicate more and more! There’s a lot of things that just don’t (and won’t) work when it comes to using Google Translate. Let’s get into it!
1. Idioms/expressions in your language will never translate to a new language. They just won’t.
Idioms are “a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words“. Examples of these would be:
- It’s raining cats and dogs.
- I am over the moon for you.
- I can see the light.
- I feel so stabbed in the back.
- Kill two birds with one stone.
- It takes two to tango.
The list goes on! I’m sure you can think of a few other common ones off the top of your head. These won’t translate in English to any other language properly. They’re unique to the English language! The same goes for any nation’s national language spoken. Serbia has a few of their own idioms that make zero sense when translated to me….
- Dobra riba.
- This translates to “good fish”. It’s more used by men when they see a pretty girl. It’s like saying “she is smokin’ hot!” But in English, it sure doesn’t sound like it!
- Ne traži dlaku u jajetu.
- This translates to “don’t go looking for a hair in an egg”. This means something like “don’t go out of your way to find fault in something”.
- Poklonu se u zube ne gleda.
- This translates to “you should not look a gift in the teeth”. This means to be happy with the gift you received and to not weigh up the value of the gift, etc.
- Ko se jednom na mleko opeče taj i u jogurt duva.
- This translates to “he who has burned himself on milk will blow on yogurt too”. This probably makes the most sense in English, but still, if you heard it you’d be a bit confused.
You get the point now I’m sure! It just doesn’t work. Don’t use them when you’re trying to communicate through Google Translate.
2. The shorter the sentences, the better.
You have to understand that Google Translate will not always be correct. I’ve found from my experiences that the shorter the sentence, the higher chance that I’ll get an accurate translation. Of course this largely is based on the word choice you’re using, but as a rule of thumb, I think it’s always better.
3. Dumb it down.
There is no reason to be using large and complicated words when you’re trying to communicate with someone in another language. Keep it simple. Speak like you’d be speaking to a child. It’s not a testament to your intelligence and it definitely isn’t an insult to theirs. This is the best way to have an actual conversation with the person! Here are some great and basic examples for common words or phrases to try and avoid:
- What’s happening?
- Just say “how are you?” or even “what’s up?” works in most cases. Saying what’s happening can literally make someone look around and try to see what is happening around them!
- Quite a day, huh?
- Instead, maybe use “wow this weather is great today”.
- Well this is bonkers!
- This might seem like an exaggeration, but you would be surprised about people’s choices of words just from habit! I see this happen all the time. Clearly this could be said with the word “crazy” and then it’s “well this is crazy!” and all of a sudden would make sense to your partner.
- Back in the day I would always….
- “When I was younger” would be a great alternative here that is going to be more easily understood in a translation.
These three basic tips are surprisingly not so common knowledge! Learning two other languages has really taught me a lot about things that others would never even realize are important. These common mistakes have caused me a lot of confusion with Google Translate and cutting these habits gave me a lot of progress!