Q3 2019 - Ethics

Ask Dr Ruth Q & A

Dr Ruth's Q&A Should I use Google Translate™ for my market research?

Q: Should I use Google Translate™ for my market research?

Ruth Partington

A: It depends on the nature of the research and the purpose of the translation. Particularly for European languages, this free Neural Machine Translation (NMT) resource can be excellent to get the gist of what has been said without any extra cost -  in the case of verbatim, for example.

However, you must be certain that the verbatim contains no personal data (and we’ve all seen participants include their full name or contact details!). Otherwise, you risk breaching the DPA 2018 (GDPR) due to the public nature of the machine and its learning (anyone can join the ‘Translator’s Community’ and view previous translation input).

In terms of other translation purposes, Google Translate™ has been proven time and time again to still not be suitable for surveys that will not be checked by human translators. Especially in market research, where nuance, cultural sensitivity, benchmarking and consistency are key, this free service has ruined projects and even reputations due to inaccuracies.

Finally, many researchers use Google Translate™ to check translations by human linguists. Again, to get an overall gist, this can work well. However, Google’s service still falls short for checking -

  • positive statements are mistranslated as negative statements;
  • names and places can be mistranslated;
  • idiomatic or nuanced phrases can be missed, etc.

This happens even across European languages, although is particularly noticeable for non-European languages.

Ruth Partington

Ruth Partington

Ruth has nearly 25 years of experience bridging the gap between the Insight Industry and global research participants, through excellent quality language services and consultancy. As a passionate businessperson, communicator and motorbike enthusiast, she’ll never shy away from a discussion on ‘changing the game’!


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