Translation with a Conscience

Translation Party is a website built using Google Translate. The idea is to take an English sentence, translate into Japanese, then back into English, and keep going back and forth until an equilibrium is reached and the translation stabilizes.

I tried out various different sentences. Here’s what I got for “China and Japan will never get along“:

China and Japan, please get along.

I knew Google’s motto is “don’t be evil,” but I didn’t expect that to result in translations that lecture (politely). Still, pretty cool.

Anyway, I recommend you play around with Translation Party. It’s a very simple concept; would love to see it done in more language combinations (especially Chinese to English!).


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. Well, if we apply “Don’t be evil” to “Translation with a conscience”, surely we come up with “Don’t deliberately mistranslate”, in which case, we find Google falling a little short of its slogan’s full implications. And not for the first time.

  2. “This economy is really going into the toilet.”


    “I’m actually in the current economic situation, go to the bathroom.”

  3. That’s interesting… I put in “I’ve got half a mind to confiscate my son’s wheelchair” (don’t ask… it’s supposed to be strange, isn’t it).

    it translates to “私は自分の息子の車椅子を押収するために30の心を持っている”, which in turn is “I seized a wheelchair for my son has a heart of 30”. As you can see, the 30 is present in the first Japanese translation. Anyone know where that came from? There’s nothing like 30 in the original sentence..

  4. Ben,

    Hmmm, that is bizarre. I tried “I’ve got half a mind to…” on some other sentences (this one was amusing), and got no 30 in the results.

    My guess is that somehow Google Translate thought time was involved. 30 is half the number of minutes in an hour, or seconds in a minute. That’s all I got…

  5. Have you tried running the same sentence back & forth through Chinese & English?

  6. Haha, that’s good… I tried some more and didn’t get any closer to the 30 mystery, but I did find an indefinite loop…

  7. Hmm, I tried “He’s on his deathbed” and it became “He died for me.”

  8. As suggested by Tim P, I tried hosting a “party” manually. Google Translate even has a feature where you can swap the direction of translation with a single click, so it’s pretty easy. With English and Chinese, it reached equilibrium even sooner than Japanese:

    Han and Uygur will never get along.
    Han and Uygur will always live in harmony.
    Han and Uygur will always live in harmony.

    I also tried starting with Chinese instead of English:

    Han and Uygur will never get along well.
    Han and Uygur will always live in harmony.
    Han and Uygur will always live in harmony.

    Machine translation still has such a long way to go.

  9. It is really funny. “The glass is on the table” (note the lack of period) is translated into Japanese just fine, but then turns into a question on the way back into English – for no apparent reason. Then it ends up as “glass table”.

    Add a period to the end of the sentence, and it ends up with a never-ending loop between “Glass on the table is.” and “Is the glass on the table.” (note the lack of a question mark.)

  10. “I do not like blueberry muffins.” becomes “AIRABU BURUBERIMAFIN.”

  11. I found another infinite loop with the sentence, “People like to eat chicken, but chickens don’t like to be eaten.”

    Where did the word “atom” come from in this, anyways?!

  12. heilong79 Says: August 10, 2009 at 9:36 am

    loop on “Ireland is green as grass”. Its wacky.

  13. bears don’t drink beers but eat bees

    I will, honey buzzard, I have been drinking beer at dinner.

  14. David Moser Says: August 14, 2009 at 4:15 pm

    Wonderful fun! I entered the famous line from “Cool Hand Luke”, “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” and got “This failure to communicate.”, which is at least nicely self-referential. I also tried “If you ask me, all translation programs suck.” and got:
    If you are, please ask me to suck all the translation program.
    If the program asked to absorb all of the following translation.
    If all of the following translation is called to absorb part of the program.
    … and so on

  15. Wow. The ones I’m putting in are coming out a bit dark:

    Death comes to all, but great achievements build a monument which shall endure until the sun grows cold.


    Cold all the great museums of the death of building.

    and then

    Some look at things that are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were and ask why not?


    Police are looking for a reason to consider a few things. Why did I dream of you?

  16. I know this is an old post, but I speak some Japanese and I must say, the translations on both sides are TERRIBLE–there’s as much broken Japanese as there is broken English. Really, I will never use Google Translate after seeing this.

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