Google announced yesterday it will be graduating its Gmail Automatic Message Translation app from its Gmail Labs testing ground, making it available to all Gmail users.
I am an avid user of Gmail Labs, and switched the translation app on when it first became available back in 2009. But since then, I’ve never had any reason to use it. All the people I email either speak my language or I speak theirs, which I imagine is the case for most normal Gmail users.
Google cites the app’s success among Google Apps for Business users, who apparently use the translation app to liaise between worldwide offices.
I can’t help but feel suspicious of this. While Google Translate is one of the best online translators out there, it is not always accurate and must surely have led to misunderstandings between business clients.
As a translator, I am also uneasy about businesses choosing automated over human translation. There are many great translators out there specialising in particular areas of business, far more likely to produce accurate translations than Google. Are they to find themselves with fewer and fewer clients?
Of course, the nature of email is instant, which rules out the delay that human translation incurs, but if business users trust Google enough to translate their emails, it is surely only a matter of time before the human translation of other business documents is impacted too.