On Monday morning I published an open letter addressed to the Google Translate team urging them to update their translation of the Spanish-language term for “undocumented.” In some instances, Google’s free translation service incorrectly translated the Spanish term ‘indocumentado’ to “illegal immigrant.’
A Google spokesperson told me the company has no plans to update the failed translation and that it’s up to the free online service’s users to suggest better translations and improve the system.
“Google Translate aims to help people access content online in languages they don't speak. It produces translations automatically based on translated text that already exists on the web,” read a statement sent to Fusion by Ricardo Blanco, a Google product communications specialist based in Mexico City.
“Since the translations are generated by machine, they’re not always perfect, but we're constantly working to improve the quality of our algorithms, and we appreciate this feedback,” Blanco’s statement went on to read.
Google Translate generates translation by looking for patterns in hundreds of millions of documents. I had a phone conversation with Blanco and explained to him that the term “undocumented” was clearly “indocumentado” in Spanish and that in this case the translating service resulted in failed translation. Blanco didn’t see the urgency in human intervention to update the translation.
Blanco said it was up to Google Translate users to suggest better translations by using a built in feature for improved translation suggestions.
I rephrased the question and again explained that the term undocumented and “illegal immigrant” had very different political meanings but Blanco reiterated translations are based on the way their service indexes millions of other translations on the internet.
As I mentioned in my open letter, publications like the New York Times, the Associated Press and the L.A. Times no longer use the term “illegal immigrant,” acknowledging being specific about an immigrant's experience is more accurate. Still, Google won’t budge.
Three request for a statement were sent to Google’s main press office in Mountain View, California before I received a response. I was surprised to finally receive a response addressed to me in Spanish, considering my requests were made in English and my opinion essay was written in English and published on the ABC News website.
Blanco said the request for statement was forwarded to him because he works closely with members of the communication team in Mountain View.
So what are the options now that Google won’t take action?
If you stumble across one of Google Translate’s failed translations you can hover over the inaccurate result to display the “original text tooltip” and click the "Suggest a better translation" link.