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When the right translation "doesn't look right"

Something is amiss when the automatic translator rejects a good translation just because it doesn't share enough words with other poor translations. I just translated a sentence from this Spanish article, which, if you pay attention to the context, is about a software program that adds silly comic speech bubbles to images: http://duolingo.com/#/translation/f0fb18e4e90427587f9a444f97538abc

"Lo único que nos hará falta es añadirles los bocadillos de comics."

My translation:

"All we have to do is add comic speech balloons."

I got the "Oops, that doesn't look right" message for that. OK. The current "best" translation is "The only thing that will be necessary is to add the sandwiches of comics", which is nonsensical.

When I went on to rate translations, the other options given were equally silly things about sandwiches (which is an alternative translation for "bocadillo", but totally wrong in this context). So I assume I was marked incorrect because I didn't say anything about sandwiches and because I put it into less literal/less awkward English ("All we have to do" instead of "the only thing that will be necessary" etc).

I'm really enjoying this site, but translation is getting rather frustrating - this is the worst example, but I constantly see "100%" sentences that are simply wrong. I hope Duo is looking into ways to make the translation software smarter. Perhaps the rating system needs to be more nuanced, or native Spanish speakers learning English could help rate translations for accuracy?

January 11, 2013



We're definitely working on this! Thanks for the feedback.


I think I can confirm this. Getting a correct translation rejected as insufficiently similar to a weirdly wrong literal one has always been a problem, but it was worse before we were immediately given three translations to vote on. The nonsense used to survive much longer in what were supposedly the best translations.

Now whenever I vote on a translation I always get a chance to edit the one I choose. When none of the choices is correct I pick the best and change whatever needs changing. But it would be nice to know what this actually does.


When you edit a translation, the person who wrote it gets an email showing them the suggested edit, and they can choose to approve it or not. I do the same, but I'm not sure if it helps much; who knows how often people bother to do the extra work involved in assessing the suggested edit to accept or reject it.


Perhaps part of this could be solved by giving people with a history of reliable translation the option to override this message.


Excellent point of discussion. The one thing I would like to add to this is that whenever we are given a real life translation task, we really do need to know the context of the article, but it is not given to us. Unless I have missed something, Duolingo does not provide any information about the document that the sentence comes from. We're asked to translate in the dark.

Apparently, Xiuhtecuhtli did understand the broader context of the line he was asked to translate, so maybe I'm missing something.

Either way: either that information is missing, or needs to be much more clear.

Thanks, Erik


I think that's a mistake on our part, because we do give you the context. Simply scroll up and down and you can see the rest of the document.


In addition to what Luis said, you can also see the document on its original webpage by clicking on the "View original document" link in the right side bar below "Document stats". Sometimes that helps as you can then see what type of website it's on, related images, etc.

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