ChatGPT vs. Google Translate: Which Is Better At Translation?

Google Translate is one of the best free online translation tools, but could ChatGPT take its crown?

From content writing and programming to product design and data analysis, ChatGPT is making an immediate impact in almost every digital field imaginable.

However, one area ChatGPT could be particularly impactful—although currently getting little attention—is machine translation. Currently, Google Translate is the top dog, and almost everyone else is playing catch-up.

But with the rise of ChatGPT, could Google Translate’s dominance be challenged? We’ll pit ChatGPT against Google Translate to see which tool can provide better translations.

What Does a Good Translation Look Like?

The primary purpose of translation is to convey the meaning of a speech written or spoken in one language using another language. Consequently, a good translation must not just swap the meaning of words between two languages but must convey the meaning of the entire body of text as a whole.

It must also not just be a literal meaning of a speech but must communicate the meaning intended by the user while preserving the tone, cultural connotation, and context.

Unfortunately, a good translation is hard, even from big translation services like Google Translate. Machine translation is tough because languages aren’t the same in their approach to constructing sentences.

For example, in a language like French, pronouns have a gender, while in Japanese, pronouns are almost completely omitted. Similarly, in Chinese, there are barely any differences between singular or plural nouns. In English, the reverse is the case.

This all adds up to present unique challenges when it comes to translating between pairs of languages.

And then there’s the issue of context and colloquialism. Machine translation tools find it hard to get the context of a statement right. One statement may mean one thing in one context and a different thing in another context.

Similarly, colloquialisms that involve the use of proverbs, idioms, and wordplay can be problematic to translate.

Since text translation is one of the things ChatGPT can do impressively, we decided to compare how it stacks up against Google Translate. We selected some hard-to-translate text that featured common translation problems to compare the two tools.

Google Translate vs. ChatGPT: Translating Colloquialisms

When translating colloquialisms, the translation may not preserve the meaning and intent in a similar tone as the original language.

We asked Google Translate and ChatGPT to translate the simple English idiom “Juan kicked the bucket” to Spanish. Both translation services produced “Juan pateó el blade,” a literal translation of the idiom. While this works, the meaning or intent would be completely lost for someone that doesn’t understand the context.

Here, Google Translate’s ability to help ends. However, ChatGPT offers more help. Rather than simply prompting it to translate, you can ask ChatGPT to provide a “meaning in Spanish” or “provide a meaning in English,” depending on which language you are translating. In this case, ChatGPT will provide a literal translation and interpretation of the idiom.

We tried several other colloquialisms, and both services almost always provided a literal translation. While this works, it could provide misleading information in some situations. ChatGPT’s ability to provide an “interpretation” rather than just a literal translation of colloquialism is an advantage.

Google Translate vs. ChatGPT: Which Translation Tool Is Better?

It’s hard to say with certainty. Both translation tools have their strong points. Google has been making massive investments in Natural Language Processing (NLP). As a result, it outperforms ChatGPT in languages to which it has paid special attention. However, considering how ChatGPT works and the nature of training it has undergone, it represents a unique and exciting approach to translation. Which of them should you use? Both tools are free, so feel free to experiment and settle for which one works for you.

ChatGPT: An Emerging Translation Tool

Google Translate has made a name for itself in the machine translation space. However, ChatGPT, although relatively new, is not a pushover.

One of ChatGPT’s greatest advantages is its ability to adjust its translation based on the context or extra provided by the user. Google Translate can not currently do this.

While we can’t confidently say whether ChatGPT will challenge Google Translate’s dominance as the preferred translation tool, the AI chatbot clearly has the potential to give Google a fight.


This article was first published at Muo, on January 30, 2023.


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