How Translated Tweets Work

By Chiara Grassilli
In Social Media Translation
Jul 15th, 2013

Translated Tweets – Translation and Social Media


Today I’m going to analyse how translated tweets work.

I like spending my spare time reading blogs and articles about fields other than translation. I like to keep up to date about the topics I usually translate in, mainly digital marketing and social media. One of my favourite blogs is Digital Inspiration, where you can find a lot of useful information about a wide range of topics connected with the digital world.

The newsletter update I received today was about a new feature in Twitter that allows you to translate tweets in a language you don’t understand (read the article here)

Automatic translation tools have been around for some time. But this feature makes the process easier, because the translation appears immediately below the tweet.

According to the feature that provide automatically translated tweets has been set primarily for political reasons:

“Twitter has enabled an automatic translation feature that allows English-speaking users to read the tweets of high-profile Egyptian Twitter users during the country’s high-profile time of political unrest, the company told us.

While translation on the web through features like Google Translate are nothing new, the native translate button added to tweets makes it easier to read them in English right away. In fact, tweets from certain users will show a “translate now” button below the text. And by enabling the feature on high-profile accounts during an international news event, it shows that Twitter is committed to being the platform where breaking news happens — and where people around the world can follow along.” (source)

I immediately gave it a try, although I knew how the automatic translation tools work. I picked this tweet from Ryan Tate (@ryantate):

“American in Hong Kong leaks to Brazil-based American writing for Brit paper’s U.S. edition based in NY. Hopes for amnesty in Iceland.”

and I clicked on the translation button. This is what I got in my language:

“Americano a Hong Kong le perdite alla scrittura americana basata sul Brasile per US edition Brit carta basato a New York. Speranze per amnistia in Islanda.”

For those who understand Italian it will be easy to see that the translation is completely wrong.

What’s the problem? That the program doesn’t understand if “leaks” is the noun in the plural form or the verb at the third person. If it picks the wrong one, as in this case, all the sentence changes its meaning.

So two considerations come to my mind:

  1. Twitter proves to be a pretty smart company. They are aware of playing a political role and features like this one show that they want to reinforce this identity.
  2. Automatic translation tools allow people to grasp the meaning of text that they usually cannot understand. But if the translation quality is such as the example above, I’m afraid it will create a lot of misunderstandings and political incomprehensions. And I’m not sure Twitter want to be responsible for this.

The solution is not to rely on the automatic translation for important communication. Bing Translator and similar tools are free, while a human translator costs. But the cost of a damaged image because an incorrect translation is given to the customer is much higher.

A company that makes Twitter part of its marketing strategy and has customers abroad doesn’t want to be misinterpreted as in this example.

It just takes a second to destroy the brand reputation, and sometimes just a single tweet.

Tips of the author – You might also like:

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About "" Has 117 Posts

Since an early age I have been passionate about languages. I hold a Master's degree in Translation and Interpreting, and I have worked as a freelance translator for several years. I specialize in Marketing, Digital Marketing, Web and Social Media. I love blogging and I also run the blog

3 Responses to “How Translated Tweets Work”

  1. Alina says:

    Thanks for testing it and sharing the results with us. I was actually curious how good/bad it was. But, as it was to be expected, the translation would be far from perfect. It is an automated translation and we know by now that machines are yet to produce accurate, human-like translations. They can help to a certain extent, but they have their limitations.

    You mention that automated translation of tweets may create misunderstandings in the political field. I would assume that people at that level would not consider Twitter as their only source of information and in case where a controversy may ensue, they would probably make sure they have the correct and complete translation with the help of a professional.

    • Chiara Grassilli says:

      Dear Alina,
      as it was expected the automatic translation still cannot beat the human translation, for the simple reason that languages are complex and full of ambiguity.
      I do hope that people don’t consider Twitter as their only source of information, but it’s true that by the time they check other sources the damage is already done.

      I also hope that companies that use Twitter as an element of their marketing strategy don’t rely on this tool to translate their tweets and send them out.

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