Lost in Facebook Translation – Why the Facebook translation tool is a failure

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Facebook has decided to make it easier for its users with international friends who do not always interact in a shared language. So, if you come across a status, comment or similar written in a foreign language, you will soon have the possibility to translate them in another language of your choice. The translation service will be powered by Bing Translator. More about how it works on Inside Facebook, Scribbal, Tech2, Mashable, Search Engine Watch, Sprout Social, Techie Buzz, All Facebook in English and All Facebook Germany.

Source: AllFacebook.com

Can Bing handle it?

In theory, it is a revolution. In practice, I am very doubtful whether it will actually bring any improvement. As we know, the language we use on Facebook is far from being publishable material. In fact, it is usually full of slang or colloquial terms, spelling, grammar or punctuation mistakes. These will not make it easy for Bing to produce translations of quality, or even intelligible ones.

Based on our comparison of machine translation tools, we decided to focus on how Bing can deal with segments extracted from Twitter – similar online social medium – and sentences containing slang terms, rampant on Facebook.

Here are our results of how well Bing Translator handled the data.

Percentage of successful translation

“The top results barely reach 50% correct translation – an utter disaster”

All categories scored below 50% except for one, and yet barely. Some categories did not even produce 10% of intelligible text, such as the English-French translation, English-Portuguese Slang or Spanish-English Tweets. None of the colloquial segments in Spanish-English were translated in a comprehensive manner. Overall, it is highly likely that the translation Facebook suggests to you will be nonsensical, or worse even – misleading. Here is an example below of how French to English translation turns out.


As you can see, the end result is far from being perfect, even though the example selected was written is flawless French. While the first sentence is comprehensible, albeit not idiomatic, the rest displays some of the several issues characterising the ‘Translate’ feature. The heart icon and the link are not carried over, the meaning of “three seasons in a” cannot even be guessed, “ma belle” was not translated and “Vivement les photos” (I cannot wait for the pictures) became – somehow – “3 strongly pictures.”

“Has Facebook made the right decision?”

Is this really going to enhance communication on Facebook? It does not look like it; machine translation is not ready for this. Of course, we could expect users to change their writing habits and write machine translation friendly texts. We know this is not going to happen and we should not have to. Facebook users are still to learn foreign languages the traditional way if they want to have an international éclat to their address books. Using the Facebook translation feature will spawn idleness among the users who will not even try to understand the source text by themselves, relying automatically on the machine translation. Because the results are highly likely to be of low quality, it will generate confusion and, eventually, frustration. Would you read comments or updates that are hard to understand, if at all? Would you still ‘Like’ such a page? Bad translation can potentially have a very negative impact. Has Facebook taken the right decision by implementing a half-baked product? We say: No.

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