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.”
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.