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Sweden = United States: Google Translate

David Landes · 24 Aug 2011, 13:57

Published: 24 Aug 2011 13:57 GMT+02:00

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In some contexts, "Sweden" translates as "United States", "Stockholm" becomes "London" and "Dalarna" becomes "Iowa", according to Google Translate.

“There's quite a lot that can go wrong with Google Translate,” Peter Ljunglöf, a computer science professor at the Chalmers Institute of Technology in Gothenburg and expert in computer-aided translations, told The Local.

“It's constantly evolving, but there is still lots that can improved.”

In certain sentences, for example, the central Swedish county of Dalarna, known for ski resorts, natural beauty, and the cradle of traditional Swedish culture, is translated as "Iowa", a Midwestern state in the United States known for its cornfields and the special role it plays is US presidential politics.

And according to Google Translate, the central Swedish county of Västmanland, which borders on the northern shores of Lake Mälaren, is the equivalent of North Yorkshire, an area in northwestern England known for its abundance of national park land.

Ljunglöf theorised that Google's assumption that North Yorkshire is an accurate English translation of Västmanland in Swedish probably has to do with how each is referred to in texts reviewed by Google Translate's tools.

“Västmanland in Swedish is probably used in a similar context as North Yorkshire is used in English,” he said.

“They probably both occur in texts about rural areas and farmland.”

Ljunglöf explained that Google Translate works by drawing on vast databases of texts published on the internet.

“There are tools and algorithms it uses to see if one word is a translation of another word,” Ljunglöf said.

“It can also do this at the sentence level where the tools can see if something is probably an accurate translation.”

He added, that, despite continual improvement, computer-aided translation is far from perfect.

“There are also a lot of humans that have to go in and fix mistakes,” said Ljunglöf.

Part of the problem with getting accurate Swedish-to-English translations, he explained, also has to do the fact that there are many fewer web pages in Swedish compared to other languages.

As a result, it can take longer for Google's tools to identify the right translations, something which is evident when a user enters “Jag är från Stockholm.”

Story continues below…

According to Google, the correct English translation is “I am from London.”, although the mistake only occurs if the full-stop is included in the sentence.

And when a user enters the Swedish-English sentence “Jag är från Sweden”, for example, Google spits out “I am from United States”.

“I have no idea why that would happen,” said Ljunglöf.

Attempts by The Local to reach Google's offices in Sweden for comment were unsuccessful.

David Landes (david.landes@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

14:40 August 24, 2011 by Douglas Garner
Good and relevant article to many of our compaints against The Local! When I initially moved to Gävle, I missed a great job opportunity because "Gävle" was being translated as "Calcutta."

This should remind us not to take automatically translated documents as gospel... both as editors and as readers!
14:53 August 24, 2011 by visitorfromnowhere
Sorry, but this is not a story about Sweden or Swedish nor the United States and English. I have used Google translate for many languages and for some strange reason it sometimes switches capital cities and currencies rather than merely translate them. I have seen Stockholm become London and KR become USD and Paris become Roma, etc.
14:58 August 24, 2011 by nice1stu
Well of course it is far from perfect. Many words are often lost in translation. Words with multiple meanings often rely on the computer algorithms to decide which word is the appropriate translation.Google Translate often shows multiple translations of some words when they are available. A lot also relies on input from users to provide better translations, and there is no guarantee they are correct either.

Then as well when you mix languages, the computer must decide how to translate your words. Like "Jag är från Sweden", well that's English and Swedish mixed together, making it difficult to decide what Swedish word looks like Sweden, and what it means in English. I am sure "Jag är från Sverige" will come out I am from Sweden.

But I of course tried it, and "Jag är från Sweden" came out "I am from Sweden", so it must have been corrected after they read the article.
15:00 August 24, 2011 by rls1978
I got a job as a babysitter and was using Google Translate to read my babysitting company's handbook. In Swedish, the handbook recommended something about dressing in a mature fashion with a long-sleeved shirt and professional clothes. Google Translate told me, "You should dress topless in order to appear more mature."
15:15 August 24, 2011 by conboy
According to the stock exchanges Google is a winner! Thats all that matters surely!
15:21 August 24, 2011 by dolphin, the
@Douglas Garner:

I have been asking myself often times if TL is using google to translate articles written in Swedish. I guess this will be a wake up call for them and we would see more original news in English soon.


I agree with you when it comes to writing in a mixture of languages in a single sentence. But "Jag är från Sweden." is still translated by google-translate as '' I am from United States.'' This only happens, as stated on the article, if you put full stop at the end.
16:07 August 24, 2011 by texaslass

Thanks for the laugh!
16:08 August 24, 2011 by anniegother
I'll take Google Translate over a manual dictionary (which I had to use in 1999 when I got here!) any day. My most recent translation faux pa was translating an article about the Opening Day Celebrations for the new Gymnasium in Upplands Väsby. Big doings! However, the artist Marcoolio translated to Metallica. We're not THAT big (yet!)

I also read and re-read a translation before sending it on, especially in matters of business. I want the Swedes to take my concerns seriously, which is why I use Google Translate, not for them to have their laugh of the day. I love this tool! But a tool is only as great as the operator...
16:28 August 24, 2011 by The Local
@ Douglas Garner

Those articles on The Local that are translated (from news agency TT) are all translated by humans - of whom all are native English-speaking journalists.

Other articles, such as this one, are written from scratch by our journalists. Any faults in our articles are therefore down to human error and nothing else.

James Savage

Managing Editor
16:31 August 24, 2011 by me_i_sverige
Try translating a Danish pharase (all low caps) to English

jeg er from køge

and, see the result .-D. btw, køge is a small danish town
16:46 August 24, 2011 by Iri
Swedish Krones are translated into British pounds,,, Like here is an example. Once i was trying during my bank statement..

17:15 August 24, 2011 by sergisr
"Raggare och Eddie Meduza" = "Asian Network and Eddie Cochran".
17:17 August 24, 2011 by Dildo
Stockholm = London.. !
17:20 August 24, 2011 by Nightlight
But of course it will make such mistakes: The translation algorithms are fully automatic, and based on tons of parallel (or semi-parallel) data in the two languages. Often the data in one language is not an exact counterpart of the data in the other language.

However, Google does let you suggest a better translation, so let's just use that opportunity to improve the translation system for the future users.
17:42 August 24, 2011 by Svensksmith
You get what you pay for.
18:49 August 24, 2011 by Hauhr
Oh my goodness, the picture for this article actually has more than simply a vague connection with the subject matter!
20:22 August 24, 2011 by colombianska_tjej
@me_i_sverige and ris1978

Thank you so much for the laughs :)
00:22 August 25, 2011 by stenhuggaren
@ On Target - presumably because it is so much easier for you and a few others to just spew scorn and derision than to think for yourselves and recognise that TL does a bloody good job on presumably very tight resources.
03:52 August 25, 2011 by Jan Svenson
nonsense I just tried the terms you listed , I think you people just make stuff up.
03:57 August 25, 2011 by Da Goat
The real reason is that google does in fact know better

Sweden is a part of the US and Darlana might as well be Iowa and if London is ever flooded Stockholm is the next best thing!

this is really funny really that they don't use the transliteration but the translation of the word and we clearly see the results that the computers think is the same, what an excellent story TL

we can't accuse you of using google translate they include all the words! and make sense just screw up the facts! ROFL!
08:35 August 25, 2011 by Kstock
Just yesterday I typed in "I'm going to take my dog for a walk" into Google translate SV version and I got back =

Varför valde du att flytta hit till kalla landet Sverige? Har du klippor för en hjärna? Tycker du inte att det är dags att du börjar lära sig språket och få ett riktigt jobb du degenererad skithög.
08:57 August 25, 2011 by Douglas Garner
@The Local: Regarding real live native english speaking journalistic translators... perhaps they should slow down and re-read what they write or have some sort of peer checking before publications! Or, is it possible that their knowledge of Swedish is less than optimal? ...perhaps that is why we readers of the Local find it so amusing!

Certainly you have read the frequent criticisms of your translations and reference to Google Translate. Most errors can be sorted out by using a little common sense, but it can be frustrating at times. Don't get me wrong, I love The Local and recommend it to all English speaking immigrants, and even forward the occasional article to my American friends. During my first year or so in Sweden, it was as a lifeline to understanding what Sweden was all about!!!
09:45 August 25, 2011 by Pont-y-garreg
Agree with Douglas Garner.

There are many errors in the English found in articles by The Local.

I'm surprised that they are supposedly written by native English speakers.

I would have guessed, from the mistakes, that many of the articles had been written by Swedish speakers.

A good journalist should check and double check his copy. I suspect the problem lies in the native speaker having lived in Sweden too long. What happens is that one's English starts to absorb some of the typical errors made by native Swedish speakers. (I know from experience)

It's clear, when you look at the mistakes, that they are influenced by interference between the two languages. Some articles are well written and others are, quite frankly, appalling.

The solution to this is to employ a proof reader who has no knowledge of the Swedish language and is, preferably, not living in Sweden.

In these days of the email and Internet this should not be difficult.
15:15 August 26, 2011 by deaftoned
to be honest i thought it was a malicious web script that infests google chrome.

because of example even Webhallen translates into Amazon Marketplace. I do not think it is only a dictionary issue.

Also capital letters and spaces mess up very randomly so it really looked like a script kiddie work.

try virus scanning, deleting cookies, re-installing chrome. and u dont get that effect again. it works most of the time.
22:49 August 28, 2011 by MichiganLady
And sometimes it manages to translate the difficult quite well--but I've seen the glaring errors. I see Google translate in action as I read Helsingborgs Dagblad every day. What's really nice is that you can hover over a sentence and get the original Swedish, and usually see where the translation went a bit sideways. Most of the time, that happens with loose Swedish--(grammatical) subjects not given, just understood.

mylanguages.org does some amazing things with translations, finding English idioms that are equivalent though not a direct translation.
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