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You are to blame for inaccurate English-Swahili translations – Google

Search engine giant Google has come out to explain why sometimes you get inaccurate English-Swahili translations.

According to Google, you are the one to blame for posting too little Swahili content on the internet.

Google Localization Expert Rachael Ndichu Ngugi says the scarcity of Swahili content online is the major cause of inaccuracy in English-Swahili translations.

“Some people believe that Google has a team of translators who work on translations but that is not the case. Google uses computers to analyse millions and millions of documents already translated by humans and posted on internet,” explains Ms Ngugi.


“When you key in ‘we shall revisit’ for example, the computers use a process called ‘neural machine translation’ to analyse the texts on the internet to come up with the meaning. Because that phrase has never been translated to Kiswahili, the machines pick words available online and come with something like ‘tutarudi tena’ instead of ‘tutarejelea’ ” she says.

According to Google statistics, Kiswahili content on the internet is mere 0.08 percent as compared to English and other major languages.

English is leading with 11.7 percent content online, Cebuano which is being spoken in Philippines (11.3 percent), Swedish (8 percent), French (4.1 percent), Dutch (4 percent).

“The translation between English and Cebuano is more accurate as compared to Kiswahili. This is because Cebuano language has huge content online at 11.3 percent as compared to Kiswahili whose content stands at 0.08 percent,” says Ms Ngugi.

Google Translate has come under serious criticism for giving misleading English-Kiswahili translations.

For instance the Swahili translation for ‘Hanging out’ is given as ‘Kunyongwa Nje’ instead of ‘kuvinjari’ or ‘kubarizi’.


“If we want to improve the English-Kiswahili translation online, people need to come up with Kiswahili blogs, websites and post a lot of articles online. This will help increase Kiswahili content on the internet,” says Ms Ngugi.

“We have a lot of Kiswahili materials such as thesis in learning institutions gathering dust in shelves. Such materials can be posted online to improve the translations. There is need for Kiswahili articles that touch on various fields like medicine, technology, law among others tom be posted on the internet,” she adds.

According to Ms Ndichu, Google Translate users can make a contribution by joining Translate Community, where people voluntarily help in improving translations.