Who Won the First Ever Google Translate World Cup?

Prestige Network Blog

Now that La Marseillaise has finished reverberating around the Champs-Élysées, and the ticker tape in Paris has no doubt been tidied up with the same diligence displayed by the Japanese fans, the question is: who won the Google Translate World Cup?

This isn’t a niche piece of machine translation trivia, but a look into the label applied to the 2018 FIFA World Cup because of the way in which those who attended and participated in the global event have connected better than ever, thanks to both technology and skilled linguists.

The official response to issues thrown up by language is encouraging, and FIFA recognise the importance at all levels – indeed the recruitment information for World Cup volunteers says, “interpreters are irreplaceable at these high profile events”. As you might expect, there has been a big push to get it right with language in 2018, and the positive results are clear.

For instance, reporters have been known to try and use translation apps on their phones to get round language barriers at a club-level press conferences, albeit with limited success. However, for the World Cup there was no need to improvise, as press conferences were officially translated into up to nine languages at a remote translation centre in Moscow.

It’s not just official communications and press conferences that need careful guidance to get it right – before the tournament a German domestic league match was disrupted when an inexact translation led to more controversy around Video Assistant Referees (VAR). Because of a subtle translation error in the rules that failed to take into account  the difference between “terminate” or “end”, there was a chaotic scene that saw  players called back onto the pitch several minutes after the first half had finished in order for a penalty to be taken.

Away from the action on the pitch, there have been more sobering incidents involving language problems, such as Brazilians fans facing criticism at home for insulting Russian women in Portuguese. This shows there’s still some way to go, but at least automated translation might help with avoiding unpleasantness as well as enabling communication.

So through all of the ups and downs, official mis-translations and drawn-out conversations in shops hunched over smartphones, who won? It’s fair to say that it hasn’t really been a true Google Translate World Cup; as organisers FIFA have noted, the value of people and their creativity in translation can’t be replaced by machines. In the end it’s the curiosity, enthusiasm and openness of fans that really won. Also France.

For a true understanding of languages that goes beyond the words into real cultural context, contact us at Prestige Network for world-beating translation and interpreting.