31 Jan 2013

‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ Lyrics in 64 Languages, according to Google Translate

Three musicians called Collective Cadenza translated the lyrics of Will Smith’s well known song ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ with Google Translate from English into the 64 languages that are currently supported by the search engine’s translation tool and then translated it back into English. Firstly, the lyrics were translated into the world’s most spoken language, Mandarin. As claimed by the UNESCO, approximately one billion people speak Mandarin, whereas English ‘only’ has circa 400 million speakers. The outcome of that translation was then converted back into English. The result was both amusing and puzzling:

The original version…

“In West Philadelphia, born and raised, on the playground is where I spent most of my days. Chilling out, maxing, relaxing all cool and all shooting some b-ball outside of the school, when a couple of guys – they were up to no good – started making trouble in my neighborhood. I got one little fight and my mom got scared and said, “You’re moving with your auntie and uncle in Bel-Air!”

… turned into:

“ Born and raised in West Philadelphia on the playground where I spent my days. Cold, apricot, relaxing all cool, shoot some b-ball outside of the school, when a couple of guys, they do not get better, started making trouble in my neighborhood. A little afraid to hit me and my mom, she said: “You, your aunt, and uncle in Bel-Air!” 

Moreover, when the lyrics were translated into the five most spoken languages (Mandarin, Spanish, Hindi, Arabic and Portuguese) and then back into English, the result was even more confusing and abstract:

“ Born in West Philadelphia on the farm where I spent my days. Cold, apricot, relaxing satisfaction, shoot some b-ball outside of school, when a couple of men, they do not improve, getting environmental problems in my territory. I was a little scared to hit my mother, she said: “Your aunt knows your uncle in Bel-Air!” “

After adding all 64 languages to the translation and converting it back into English, the lyrics became completely peculiar:

“ Born in West Philadelphia in a short period of time. In conclusion, on Sunday has been updated. School in a few minutes. I see you. Next week is not good. Economics problems. Mama! I bring fear. She speaks: “I have nothing!” “

Although Google’s translation tool is unlike others and the service has improved greatly over the past decade, this example shows the difficulties of automated machine translation and demonstrates that the quality of these translations is still poorly. Especially problematic are complex grammatical structures, idioms and slang. Google Translate uses the process of ‘statistical machine translation’, which means that it searches for patterns in millions of documents and by detecting established patterns of documents, which have already been translated by human translators, Google Translate makes guesses to select the most probable appropriate version. According to The Independent, the ‘corpus it can scan includes all the paper put out since 1957 by the EU in two dozen languages, everything the UN and its agencies have ever done in writing in six official languages, and huge amounts of other material, from the records of international tribunals to company reports and all the articles and books in bilingual form that have been put up on the web by individuals, libraries, booksellers, authors and academic departments’. Hence, the accuracy varies across languages, because there are for instance far more reliable sources in Spanish and French than in Tamil and Kannada.

The team Collective Cadenza from New York City creates musical video experiments and consists of the ‘video guy’ Joe Sabia, the ‘music guy’ Michael Thurber and the ‘audio guy’ Matt McCorkle.

Check out the very funny Google Translate version of ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’:


To find out more about our customised machine translation services and further information on Google Translate, please visit our machine translations section.


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