The Washington Post

Facebook and Twitter try to translate — but we still can’t understand

The Internet can teach us many things, from how to do a newsprint manicure to how to pronounce vichyssoise. But if you’re counting on social media networks to help you parler français, you might find yourself lost in translation.

A Google translation of a BBC Arabic tweet offers a kind of surrealist haiku. (Twitter)

Despite recent efforts to optimize machine translation, it’s no secret that Web translation tools such as Yahoo! Babelfish and Google Translate have a hard time navigating slang and idiomatic expressions. And the results are often hilarious.

Take for example, the update that popped into my own Facebook feed on Thursday. A friend in Brazil posted that she had been shopping for festive items to don at her first Carnaval in years. “After five years with no Carnaval,” the translation read, “gotta take up saw.”


What she’d actually said was that she had to make up for lost time. Semantics.

The fun doesn’t stop with Facebook. Tweets, too, can be translated, if you’re browsing in Google Chrome.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy recently opened a Twitter account. In one Feb.15 tweet, Sarkozy wrote (we think) that he promised to break down barriers to progress in his country.

The translation, powered by Google Translate, reads: “Every time there is a blockage, I’ll cut the French people.”

Bethonie Butler is a producer and a reporter on The Post’s engagement team. She oversees online comments and has also contributed to The Style Blog and She The People.


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