Google Translate now does Czech, makes for a useful phrasebook

Google Translate is mainly a source of merriment when funny mistranslations occur as they do on almost any text. But if it's all you have to get the gist of a page, it is (marginally better than nothing). And now, you can get Google translate for Czech (and many other related languages).

You can you Google Translate in one of three ways.

  1. Type in text and have Google suggest translation
  2. Give it a link and have Google translate a whole webpage (with mouseover showing the original text)
  3. Type in a search term in your own language and receive results in target language with translation

I've done quite a bit of testing and here's my verdict:

  1. It is remarkably good at translating basic phrases as might be needed by a tourist (How much does it cost? Where is the train station? The beer is too expensive.)  But there are surprising gaps: 'How much is it?' is translated as 'Kolik je hodin' rather than 'Kolik to stojí?' and the translation isn't always the same in both directions.
  2. The search translation is very good for basic searches people might need. E.g. 'Prague walking tours' or 'best been in brno' gave decent relevant results in Czech with fairly accurate translations of page titles but not perfect
  3. Translations of complete pages show up the most errors - on a news story, you may get the the theme the story is about, e.g. an accused politician but the verdict will be wrong. Sometimes the translation error is hard to comprehend, for instance, on the translation of the front page of Seznam, the 'Erotica' section is translated as 'Education'.
  4. Any complex sentences with conditionals, pronouns and most adjectives result in errors. (This is not surprising.)

How can learners of Czech from tourists to translators use Google Translate?

  1. A tourist entering a simple phrase in English can be about 90% confident of getting the right Czech equivalent which is about the same as with most phrasebooks (where the errors are usually in the choice of query), also typing in something in Czech seen or heard on the street is pretty likely to get a decent result.
  2. A tourist needing to search the web in Czech for the right results will also not be disappointed.
  3. More serious learners of Czech can use it for a quick look up of phrases if no other reference sources are available.
  4. More advanced learners of Czech can use it to correct the errors and learn that way.