• Alysa Salzberg

How a simple solution for translating Wikipedia articles became a massive problem

Wikipedia’s mission to provide free, accessible, (ideally) factual articles on a wide range of subjects is an admirable one. But what happens when there aren’t enough speakers of a particular language to write or translate them?


There are 5.5 million articles on the English-language version of the site, but a majority of the 301 international versions have less (sometimes far less) than a million.


To help fix this disparity, in January of this year, Wikipedia decided to use Google Translate.

Only, as anyone who’s used translation ‘bots for significant or highly specific texts should know, some of the results have been inaccurate – or even downright nightmarish.


For instance, in one article on the Portuguese edition of Wikipedia, the phrase “village pump” was machine-translated to “bomb the village.”


Mistakes like this abound.


In the end, Wikipedia’s good intentions ended up creating a massive translation mess. Read on to learn more about the situation, as well as attempts to fix it.




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