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How Well Does Google Translate Idioms?

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Google once boasted that their in-house machine translation efforts are award-winning. However, their internal software still hasn’t been released for all the translation language pairs their offer.

The German – English language pair is one such example using an external translation provider. I wanted to check up on this language pair by feeding it German idioms – the German language is full of metaphors and proverbs. As you can see below, rarely does the (Systran-provided) translation get across the meaning, as it’s almost always much too literal.

Why didn’t Google already switch to their in-house technology by now? Does it work less well than they were hoping for, or is it too resource-intensive with too little revenue options? It certainly would be along their mission to make information more accessible. (Update: Some of those literal translations are close to the real thing, check the comments for more…)

German original Google/ Systran translation What it really means
“Du gehst mir auf die Nerven.” You go to me on the nerves. You annoy me.
“Das geht mir auf den Wecker.” That can be done to me on the bell. This annoys me.
“Ein echter Ohrwurm, dieses Lied.” A genuine ear worm, this song. (Google is correct; “A truly catchy tune/ ear worm, this song.”)
“Das ist unter aller Sau.” That is under all sow. This is worse than bad/ this is mean-spirited/ messy.
“Wir haben bis in die Puppen getanzt.” We danced into the dolls. We danced long into the night.
“Das geht mir gehörig gegen den Strich.” That can be done to me duly against the line. This is totally not want I want.
“Na dann, Hals- und Beinbruch.” Well then, neck and leg break. Good luck on your endeavor/ may things go well.
“Die ist gestern voll ins Fettnäpfchen getreten.” Those stepped yesterday fully into the fat cell. She committed a major faux pas yesterday.
“Ich habe heute den ganze Morgen einen Kater.” I have today the whole morning a Kater. I’m on a hang-over this morning.
“Jetzt lassen Sie aber mal die Kirche im Dorf!” Now you leave however times the church in the village! Stop making such a big fuss out of this!
“Jetzt hab ich glatt den Faden verloren…” Now have I smoothly the thread lost… Now I forgot what I was talking about…
“Wusstest du nicht, der hat ins Gras gebissen.” You did not know, which has in the grass bitten. Didn’t you know he died/ he’s six feet under.
“Ich hab keine Kohle mehr, die Alte hat mich total abgezockt.” I have no more coal, which old persons has me totally abgezockt. I’m broke, this damn woman completely ripped me off.
“Der hat ihr neulich einen Korb gegeben.” That gave her a basket recently. She was flirting with him recently but he rejected her.
“Ja, dafür würde ich sogar die Hand ins Feuer legen.” Yes, but I would put even the hand in the fire. Yes, I swear on my life it’s true…
“Wer hat denn von euch zwei die Hosen an zuhause?” Who has from you two the trousers on at home? Who of you two is boss at home?

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How Well Does Google Translate Idioms?
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