Arlen Cox

Ramblings on my hobbies

Statistical machine translation fails

with 2 comments

I know that statistical machine translation (the SMT that does not mean Satisfiability Modulo Theories) is not about being correct all of the time, but sometimes it is really sensitive to odd things that should have nothing to do with the translation.  For example, I am learning French and I wanted to offer help to someone (in French).  So I thought the sentence:

Would you like me to help?

This is a completely natural sentence, but the grammatical structure is kind of complicated.  Instead of “me” being a direct object to “like”, it is part of a compound object “me to help.”  The great news is that Google Translate seemingly correctly translates this to French:

Voulez-vous que je vous aide?

Ok, it’s not conversational French per-se, but it is adequate.  Literally translated, it reads

Do you want that I help you?

This seems perfectly adequate.  However, what if you are typing this into your phone and you are particularly lazy.  For example, if you leave off the capitalization and the punctuation, you get instead:

would you like me to help→ vous me voulez aider

This is a rather odd translation.  Now “me” is the direct object of want, so this translates to

you want me…to help

That’s kind of annoying.  How about the other cases adding the question mark or the capitalization, but not both:

would you like me to help? → voulez-vous que je aider?

This is avery odd translation.  Maybe there is some context where this is correct grammar, but my reading of this is essentially

do you want that I to help?

The other case is also kind of wrong:

Would you like me to help → Voulez-vous que pour aider

This also an odd translation.  I’m not familiar with the grammatical structure, so I can’t conclude that it is wrong, but I think that it probably is.  The “que pour” structure doesn’t seem very common.  I believe that this roughly translates to:

Do you want in order to help

The lack of the second party (me) in the sentence is a bit odd.

The take away from this is that Google Translate is very sensitive to punctuation and capitalization.  It can completely change your sentence if you leave these out.  Of course there are times when it give the wrong translation when you add them, so there is no universally correct answer.  The only true answer is to study the language…


Written by arlencox

August 25, 2014 at 10:21 am

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. Actually “vous me voulez aider” is a correct sentence, albeit not what you wanted. It translate to “you want to help me” (and not “you want me…to help”).


    October 3, 2014 at 11:12 am

    • Ah no, it almost is a correct sentence (“voulez” and “me” should be inverted). French…


      October 3, 2014 at 12:52 pm

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