We all have languages we do not understand or read. Some of us struggle along in our native tongue only; others have a small or large suite of languages with which they are able to work. In the end though, we all hit a language wall and need to rely on tools other than our personal skills.
And… that’s where the challenge begins.
Today, I was translating a small German paragraph for use here on ManyRoads. So for grins and laziness reasons, I thought I’d attempt to use Google Translate to help speed up my effort. Boy was I surprised! Let me explain what happened.
The paragraph I wanted to translate involves a particularly new, and what will be hugely difficult, branch of my mother’s family- the Szczepanskis. For the record, I had obtained this, for me significant, paragraph from the Sczepanski Family Archives (in Germany). Here’s what the “German” paragraph reads:
Vorbemerkungen: 1. Mennonitenfamilie. Nach der mündlichen Familienüberlieferung war der Stammvater ein katholischer Knecht namens Szczepanski (Szepansky), der bei einem mennonitischen Bauern von der Mennonitengemeinde Plauschwarren, Kreis Gumbinnen (Ostpreußen, auch “Preußisch-Litauen” genannt) arbeitete. Dieser Knecht ließ sich mennonitisch taufen und heiratete eine Mennonitin. Als später einige Familien aus der Mennonitengemeinde Plauschwarren ins Weichseldelta nach Polen übersiedelten, schloß Szepansky sich ihnen an und kam etwa 1730 nach Thiensdorf im Kreis Marienburg, wo er einen Bauernhof erwarb. Thiensdorf im späteren Westpreußen gehörte zur Mennonitengemeinde Markushof, Kreis Marienburg.
So with that text in hand, off I marched to Google Translate. I entered my text into the handy translate box and Voila! Here’s what I was given:
Preliminary remarks: 1 Mennonite family. After the oral family tradition, was the progenitor of a Catholic servant named Szczepanski (Szepansky), the (called East Prussia, also called “Prussian Lithuania”) at a Mennonite farmer from the Mennonite community chat Warren, district Gumbinnen worked. This servant was baptized and married a Mennonite Mennonite. Later, when some families from the Mennonite community in the Vistula Delta chat Warren moved to Poland, joined Szepansky on them, and came about after 1730 Thien village in the district of Marienburg, where he purchased a farm. Thien village in West Prussia, later belonged to the Mennonite community Markushof, Kreis of Marienburg.
Unimpressed with that translation (and honestly quite curious), I next went to Babelfish. In someways Babelfish is better, but in truth it is just as funny and inaccurate. Anyway here are the Babelfish results:
Prefaces: 1. Mennonitenfamilie. After the verbal family excessive quantity the master father was a catholic farmhand named Szczepanski (Szepansky), which worked at a mennonitischen farmer of the Mennonitengemeinde Plauschwarren, circle Gumbinnen (East Prussia, also “Prussian Lithuania” mentioned). This farmhand let itself baptize mennonitisch and married a Mennonitin. When some families from the Mennonitengemeinde Plauschwarren in the Weichseldelta to Poland moved later, Szepansky attached them and came themselves about 1730 to Thiensdorf in the circle Marienburg, where he acquired a farm. Thiensdorf in later west Prussia belonged to the Mennonitengemeinde Markushof, circle Marienburg.
Please understand, I do not think my German is perfect and certainly there are readers out there who can and should correct my translation. But here’s more what I think the paragraph is trying to tell us.
Introduction: First Mennonite Family.
Family oral history maintains that the family’s progenitor was a Catholic servant by the name of Szczepanski (Szepanky) who worked for a Mennonite farmer in the Mennonite community of Plauschwarren in Gumbinnen County (East Prussia, also known as Prussian-Lithuania). This servant was baptized into the Mennonite Church and married a Mennonite woman. Later when some of the Plauschwarren families emigrated to the Vistula delta region in Poland, Szczepanski joined them, arriving in Thiensdorf, Marienburg County about 1730. Once there, he acquired a farm. Thiensdorf later became part of the Marcushof Mennonite community in Marienburg County, West Prussia.
Now understand I am not picking on Google Translate or Babelfish, at all. But, these tools are a long way from perfection. In many ways, these tools actually seem a bit closer to comedic perfection rather than translational perfection. Certainly though they are good enough to give you the gist of a foreign document, especially when more than one automated translation tool is employed.
So by all means use the tools… but just don’t expect that complex translations or terms will be very precise, or accurate the first time.