Why Computers Suck At Translation


Machine translation’s a useful tool, don’t get me wrong. But if you actually try to use it for regular conversation, it’ll fall down really quickly. Why? What makes it so difficult?

[Update: her book BECAUSE INTERNET is out July 2019! ]
More from Gretchen at ALL THINGS LINGUISTIC: –

BONUS LINK: How do you translate nonsense words?

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  1. wrenegade says


    Tom Scott predicts Water Sheep in 2015

  2. Jeremy Shale says

    Meaning is cultural, not lingual. Is what you mean. More or less.

  3. GD Spam King says

    So that basically means our brain is a supercomputer with intelligent AI

  4. Space fish Aviation says

    In Afrikaans the sentence Ek sal n bal skop
    is directly translated into i will a ball kick
    Or the sentence Die bal ek geskop het
    means the ball i kicked has
    so no languages arent simple

  5. A. Owl says

    Examples of bad translation I've seen (Chinese to English, most of it):
    Boiler room: Open water room (boiling is the same character as open)
    Management office: Between management (Between = room)
    Manual ticketing: Artificial channel (This was at the bullet train station; the ticket collector was called artificial, in contrast to the kiosks).
    Oriental Pearl Tower: Oriental Pear Tower (while technically not a translation error, it's funny enough to be put in).

  6. nordac parallax says

    You sure bout that?

  7. Hellow says

    tThaatss a WaTeEerR sHEEeeep OoHHoOHOHH Pewwdsssdssdsd

  8. Reinier 538 says

    Dutch vs English:

    Jij = You
    Je = You
    Jullie = You
    U = You

  9. Il Peolo says

    4:00 Italiaaaaaaan

  10. Henrik says

    I understand that long sentences are hard to translate, but why cant Google translate a simple word half of the time? A word it absolutely should be able to translate. How about using humans to go through every word in the dictionary and translate it

  11. Johannes Stein says

    1:49 this can even happen in different dialects of the same language. For example I'm used to say "Moin" as a greeting (which can roughly translate to "Hello" or "Morning") and i use it all day long, (i come from northern Germany), but people in other parts of Germany understand it as a short form of "Guten Morgen", which means "Good morning" and is Only used, well, in the morning. That's why I'm always getting looked at funny if i say "Moin" in the evening. 😀

  12. Blueprint says

    But surely machine learning opens a whole new avenue for translation based on context and subtly does it not?

  13. Omar Smith says

    I liked the pair of balls appearing at 4:12 as you said "innuendo". That was not lost on us all, Tom.

  14. Jake Russell says


  15. NateBlox says

    water sheep

  16. [DATA EXPUNGED] says

    So the simple answer is that they suck at understanding context because they just do and most word have different meanings depending on that context

  17. GRAKNIGHT says

    No, Felix killed Hydraulic Ram

  18. Flynn Curtis says

    1:20 Tom's soul: MY ONE TAKE!!!

  19. JiblyJDawg says

    Hydraulic Ram was like a father to me

  20. Cadoc 4 says

    As a British person in Cyprus it can drive you insane when it is an important meeting

  21. Happ Gamr says

    1:18 Coincidence? I dont think so

  22. crystalpie says


    water sheep was killed by a hydraulic ram

  23. Vunga says


  24. Shaso Hunter says

    Water sheep was like father to me

  25. Jason Gregoire says

    “you’re a prat and your idea is impossible” ???

  26. CoolScribbledPinaple :D says

    I had no idea what to say so
    Water sheep

  27. Lukas Karlsson says

    YouTube auto translated this video

  28. Bauxite says

    DeepL is actually a better translator than Google Translate now.

  29. Music Meister says

    If you listen to it you can find some thinly veiled English is a sucky language, which as someone who only speaks English I can 100% agree with

  30. OverDev says

    deepl exsits.
    a translator with machine learning btw its better than the one from google but of course not perfect.

  31. Silica says

    o i got it, use translation as a captcha because computers suck at it~

  32. Tomenos Mauserrio says

    Buenas noches xD

  33. QiQQo says

    Italian is not the best example because we have different perception of time between North and South of the Country,

  34. Sebastian Baynes says

    I’m sorry but how on earth can a polychronic culture actually work properly?? I mean, I’m sure they do, and of course lateness is still a thing here, but what’s the point in using time at all if people aren’t meant to follow it properly?

  35. I'm just sitting here confused about how polychronic works.

  36. This mans voice is very distinctive

  37. Miscellaneous. says

    I would happily see polichronic time completely abolished. When I was at a week-long convention with people from all over the world, the people in my section had to have a meeting at 1900 one evening to discuss plans and concerns etc. I and the other leader from England arrived at the meeting place at 1840… we had to wait there until 2030 for the Italians to turn up! That was very annoying and honestly it was also rude.

  38. Champitoinwonderland says

    Tom: " I'm embarrassed I'm part of those people who speak only one language" " Sorry about my pronunciation "
    *Nails Buenas Noches

  39. xnamkcor X says

    Is that why Hispanic people keep trying to buy alcohol after 0200?

  40. Blake Wilson-smith says

    "inuendo" *duplicates the ball

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