While flicking through the news over my coffee this morning, I came across this article from the BBC : ‘Nicolas Sarkozy says France has too many foreigners’. But what stood out for me was not Sarkozy’s policy, but the quote in the standfirst;
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has said there are too many foreigners in France and the system for integrating them is “working more and more badly”.
“More and more badly”? Come on BBC, that sounds terrible.
As it was a quote, I immediately suspected a lacking translation effort, so I went hunting the source text.
I found it courtesy of this article from Linfo.re :
« Notre système d’intégration fonctionne de plus en plus mal »
So far, so expected. I would translate the sense of “de plus en plus” in this context as “increasingly”; so “increasingly badly” would be the result, which sounds much more idiomatic. Alternatively, you could invert the expression, so instead of “more & more + negative”, you use “less & less + positive”; less and less successfully, or less and less well, for example.
As it is a quote, you probably wouldn’t want to stray too far into the realms of freer translations, altering the sentence structure more fundamentally to incorporate words like “worse”, for example.
At this point I headed over to Google Translate, suspecting that the only explanation for the Beeb publishing such a literal and unidiomatic rendering of Sarkozy’s words would be a “fast and free” translation.
But shock horror.
Google Translate’s answer to “de plus en plus mal”?
Unless I’m much mistaken, this is a perfectly acceptable translation, but worse than this, (in my opinion) it’s better than the BBC’s choice.
Now, the sky hasn’t entirely fallen because GT still can’t handle more complex contexts, sentences, or idiomatic features of language. But this does raise the question in my mind, particularly in light of Google’s recent policy changes, how much will they take of our daily, idiomatic, use of language across their internet domain to plug into GT to improve its output?