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How accurate is te reo Māori on Google Translate?

The common greeting ‘kia ora’ translates into English as ‘to live’ and not ‘hello’ on Google Translate.  The shortcomings of the translation service have provoked a range of online discussion since Te Ao aired a story on the issue on Sunday.

Te Taka Keegan, who spent six months with Google in the US to help create a Māori translation service, says it only focuses on written words for its algorithm, and not spoken phrases.

“[Google's] main objective is to ‘make information universally available’.  They have a data[base][ which only focuses on words of various languages,” says Keegan.

Here are some popular te reo Māori words and their current Google Translation:

  • Kia ora                 To live
  • Haka                     So
  • Mihi Koe             Thank you
  • Koa Pai                Good bye

The US-based tech giant told Te Ao Māori News that its Māori language service relies on Google’s neural machine translation system and states that less-used languages are much more difficult.

However, the company says that when a Māori speaker spots an inaccurate translation, they can also suggest edits directly, both in the app as well as in the browser.

Google Translate supports more than 100 languages and can translate 37 languages via photo, 32 via voice in “conversation mode” and 27 via real-time video in “augmented reality mode”.

Keegan says Google isn't investing financially in correcting its Māori translations .  However, the company continues to profit from the translation service.

“The real issue [is] no one is prepared to actually fix the problem.”

#REO How accurate are your te reo Māori translations on Google Translate? Check this one out...aue...

Posted by Te Ao Māori News on Saturday, July 13, 2019

Te Taura Whiri i Te Reo Māori – the Māori Language Commission is prepared to ‘review’ Google Translate.

“There is no reason for us not to look into it and how we can help facilitate, support and review Google’s processes," says Chairperson Rawinia Higgins.

“This could be another avenue for us to help support the public, I think we should really look into it.  I understand the challenges, however, we’re of service to the public and so it is necessary for us to do so.”

In the meantime, users of the service are encouraged to suggest edits to improve the service for fellow tauira on their reo journey.