google translation is an epic fail

This past year left most of us anxious and questioning: “What next?” In these uncertain times, we need solid, dependable answers. What we don’t need is yet another thing going south. Americans and people around the world have been searching the Internet for answers to their questions about coronavirus and COVID-19 vaccinations in order to make the best decision for themselves and their loved ones.

Most have wondered if the COVID-19 vaccine would be mandatory. Some Spanish-speaking residents in Virginia who wondered about the COVID-19 vaccine got quite a shock when they searched the Virginia Department of Health’s (VDH’s) website a couple of weeks ago.

As first reported in the Virginia Pilot, the following frequently asked question (FAQ) was posted on VDH’s website: “Will the COVID-19 vaccine be required for all Virginians?” and instead of correctly replying “not mandatory,” the answer posted was “not necessary.” Quite a difference between these two different replies, right? This is because VDH used “Google Translate” for the Spanish language portion of their site. This is one of the common flaws with using automated translation tools, but can you imagine how many people read this and didn’t question it?

I think Vargas Jackson said it best: “There is nothing worse than providing misleading information to people who are looking for some answers.” The faulty translation on VDH’s website was eventually corrected, but how many people knew about that after the fact?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 1.4 billion people in the state of Virginia speak another language other than English, and over half of those speak Spanish. Twenty-one percent of COVID-19 hospitalizations in Virginia thus far have been Latinos. People’s lives can literally depend on accurate translations.

In order to develop “herd immunity,” Dr. Fauci has said that 70-85% of Americans will need to be vaccinated. This is just one of the reasons we don’t need misleading information like this circulating. Human translation and editing services are often necessary, especially when the information being translated is critical to public health. While it may cost more than using automated translation tools, human translation services can sometimes save lives!

Contributed by Rachel Kraft, Marketing Manager