I couldn’t have made aliyah without Google Translate.
If your Hebrew (like mine), isn’t perfect, then you’ll probably come to love it, too.
But you can’t count on Google Translate at all. If you rely on it 100%, you’ll come out sounding like a moron.
The best way I’ve found to test Google Translate’s abilities is to feed a sentence into it in English, translate it to Hebrew, and then feed the Hebrew back into it, translating it into English again.
Like with the first sentence of this post:
I couldn’t have made aliyah without Google Translate.
And here’s how it comes out when you feed it through this way:
I could not do without immigration Google Translate.
It not only sounds nonsensical, but the meaning is almost the opposite of what I intended.
Partly, that happens because I used a double negative. Double negatives work a little differently in Hebrew. Not only are they not a problem – sometimes, they’re the only way to get your point across.
“Nobody” is technically af echad / אף אחד. But if you want to say “I didn’t see anybody,” you’d say lo ra’iti af echad / לא ראיתי אף אחד, which technically means “I didn’t see nobody.”
So the number-one trick of using Google Translate to get your meaning across is to eliminate double negatives and simplify your language as much as possible.
Talk like a baby would talk, and you’ll probably make more sense than if you try to come across as a college professor. Put in a phrase like,
Could you possibly inform me, my good gentleman, of the nearest location to purchase delicious comestibles?
And you’ll get out something that sounds a lot more idiotic, like,
Could you tell me, my good lord, the nearest location to purchase food delicious?
אתה יכול אולי להודיע לי, אדון הטוב שלי, של המיקום לפחות הרחוק לרכוש מצרכי מזון טעימים?
(And actually, I’m very impressed that it did this well with a very convoluted sentence… but if you can read Hebrew, you’ll see that the Hebrew version is just this shy of total nonsense.)
Whereas if you simplify the first line of this post, you get a sentence more like:
Google Translate helped me a lot when I made aliyah.
It’s actually very sophisticated, so when you plug this line in and translate it back and forth, you get the far more sensical phrase,
Google Translate helped me a lot when I rise.
Google Translate עזר לי מאוד כשעשיתי עלייה, or…
The problem here is that “to make aliyah” is just one word in Hebrew, a verb that has this specific meaning – la’alot. Google Translate is smart, but not that smart.
Actually, it’s a heckuva lot smarter than many new olim, who make the mistake of using the word matai / מָתַי, which they learned in Hebrew school means “when.” So they’ll stick it in a sentence like “when I made aliyah.”
It’s not a Great Lie of Hebrew School, but perhaps a minor one. Matai / מָתַי only means “when” when you’re asking a question. Otherwise, you use the nearly-unprounceable combination k’she / כש.
Which Google Translate knew enough to use, though a typical oleh might not.
Even though I know a lot more Hebrew now than when I came, I still use Google Translate. But I’m using it a little differently these days.
When I need to send an email in Hebrew (for work, or something official, or just for fun), I type the email first myself. Using simple baby words, which are the only words I know. I write it to the best of my ability and try not to use fancy phrases or anything I don’t understand – which sometimes takes some convoluted rewording.
Once I have an email that I think sort of works, THEN I plug the Hebrew into Google Translate. Like last night, when I wanted to complain that our new fan didn’t work. I wanted to impart a sense of the drama that I use in all my English complaint letters… but knew I only had a limited vocabulary at my fingertips.
Google Translate spits out the English, which I then scan to make sure there are no grievous errors. I use this also as a sort of spellcheck; if I’ve misspelled eem / עם (with) as eem / אם (if), GTrans will catch it and I’ll spot a wonky sentence in the English.
With Google Translate’s help, I hone the letter, working out these kinks, until it reads mainly okay in the English. A sentence might start out looking like this:
ביום ו' קבלנו בזנן המאוורר שהזמנת באתר שלכם.
Can you spot the typos? I can’t, but GTrans can!
On Friday, we received Bznn fan you ordered from your site.
That “Bznn” is a typo – I typed בזנן, a nonsense word, instead of בזמן, on time. And “you ordered” – that’s just because the word שהזממנתי / she’hizmanti (that I ordered) is missing the final “yud.”
After lots of honing, here’s the final letter. In case you’re interested. It’s nowhere near Masters’-thesis level writing, but hopefully, it’s borderline comprehensible. (Leave critiques in the comments section if you’d like – but it’s too late because I’ve sent the email already.)
ביום ו' קבלנו בזמן המאוורר שהזמנתי באתר שלכם. שמחתי מאוד... עד שניסיתי לחבר אותו לחשמל.
ושמענו את הרעש הנורא שהמאוורר עושה כל פעם שניסינו להדליק אותו.
נראה לנו שיש משהו מקולקל בפנים שגורם את הרעש - ראינו מחוץ שיש חלק בפנים שזוז ואנחנו חושדים שחלק זה אמורה להשאר במקומו.
אז - מה כדאי לעשות עכשיו?
אנחנו רוצים להחליף את המאוורר ולקבל חדש שעובד כמו שצריך. גם כדאי להחליף מהר הכל אפשר בגלל החום בימים האלה.
איך מחליפים מכשירים מקולקלים בחברה שלכם?
תודה מראש על עזרתכם!
קרית שמואל, חיפה
According to Google Translate, here’s what it says. There are still a few hiccupy spots, but at this point, I just gave up and sent the thing off.
On Friday, we received while the fan I ordered from your site. I was very happy ... until I tried to connect it to electricity.
And we heard the terrible noise the fan makes every time we turn it on.
It seems to us that there is something broken inside causing the noise - we saw out of that part of the face move and we suspect that some of it should stay in place.
So - what should you do now?
We want to replace the fan and get new works properly. Also you should replace soon all possible because of the heat these days.
How to replace broken instruments in your society?
Thanks in advance for your help!
Kiryat Shmuel, Haifa
After a few emails last night, by the way, they called to say that there is no fan of this model anywhere in the country, so it will take 14 business days to send us a new one. At least, that’s what I think they said.
Phone calls are a bit easier these days, but continue to be a challenge. I never get the whole word-by-word meaning, just guess at the general “gist” of what’s going on.
So at one point in this phone call about the fan, he said, “should we call you when…?” (insert Hebrew blah blah blah) and I had no idea, really, when he was suggesting he might call.
I guessed and said, “of course, because I have to make sure I’ll be home.”
To which he said, “No, no, call you when…” and said the same blah blah blah again.
So, really, I have no idea when I will hear from them next, or why.
(Luckily, I did catch the part where he would have the replacement brought to the warehouse in Haifa and we could shlep there with the old fan to bring home the new fan… and vigourously (if not articulately) vetoed that option.)
And at least I know I have been heard… in all my idiocy. And despite the hiccups, Google Translate has been here for me from Day One, helping me bumble through this incomprehensible new life in Hebrew.
GTrans, I couldn’t have done it without ya!
Tzivia / צִיבְיָה