10 languages Google Translate lacks and where to find them
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Sophisticated Worf judges your Klingon grammar

Google Translate doesn’t have it all. Here’s where you can find Cantonese, Pashto and Amharic, plus some other famous languages around the world

Google Translate is the king of online translation on the fly. Google has invested a lot into perfecting its machine learning algorithms and vocabulary databases to return strong translations in the world’s most prolific tongues (English, Spanish, French, Mandarin, Russian, etc.), creating a 90-language strong polyglot machine. All things considered, one could expect that Google would have the 90 most widely-spoken languages in the world — but that isn’t the case.

Europe and India are pretty well-covered, but Africa and China are the biggest gaps in Google’s linguistic arsenal. Here are 10 languages Google Translate does not offer and where you can find them.

1. Cantonese

Statue of the movie star and Chinese martial artist Bruce Lee on the Avenue of Stars of Hong Kong (CC BY SA 2.5 Johnson Lau via Wikimedia Commons)

Statue of the movie star and Chinese martial artist Bruce Lee on the Avenue of Stars of Hong Kong (CC BY SA 2.5 Johnson Lau via Wikimedia Commons)

As someone who just came back from Hong Kong and is an ever-aspiring omniglot, I’ve found the mass confusion over simplified Chinese and traditional Chinese to be blistering. These are scripts, not languages. When people talk about the two forms of written Chinese characters, they confuse them with Mandarin and Cantonese. Traditional Chinese script is still used in Mandarin-speaking Taiwan, so don’t trust the traditional Chinese translation on Google to get you through a conversation in Hong Kong.

In the meantime, there are a few apps that can help you out: SayHiTranslate is one of them. The next big one is iTranslate Voice. Apps that might help you out are the Learn Cantonese Phrasebook, FREE Cantonese by NEMO and Cantonese slang on your move.

All the major open translation services are behind on this one, though Google Translate announced in February 2015 it was going to make an effort to get the language up and running. The is the message one Redditor received last year:

“If you want to help get Cantonese added to Google Translate, join the Google Translate Community. They need some help translating some texts, rating, and correcting translation from English to Cantonese and from Cantonese to English.”

2. Pashto

Photo credit: Awais khan / Shutterstock

Photo credit: Awais khan / Shutterstock

Update: Google Translate announced on February 17, 2016 (nine days after this article was published) that it was adding Pashto to its offerings. To get the full details, click here.

Pashto is spoken by about 40 million people in northern Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is the primary language of the Pashtun ethnic group, which dominates Afghanistan. Still, there is no major service that has the language. It’s not a language of great economic importance right now, but is essential in the security field.

Again, some apps come to the rescue. TheWebValue’s (TWV) Pashto English Translator (Android) and the Pashto English Pashtu Dictionary Box & Translator (iOS, Android) are the most prominent.

3. Amharic

Photo credit: John Wollwerth / Shutterstock

Photo credit: John Wollwerth / Shutterstock

Update: Google Translate announced on February 17, 2016 (nine days after this article was published) that it was adding Amharic to its offerings. To get the full details, click here.

If you live in Ethiopia, there are several prominent languages, such as Tigrinya and Tigre. Amharic, however, receives more international attention because a large diaspora speaks the language in Israel, and it’s the most common African language in California. Fully 22 million people speak the language, but it’s also a great example of Google needing to catch up with African audiences trying to express themselves by translation into English.

TWV features an option again with their Amharic English Translator (Android) and Fyn Systems’ Amharic Dictionary (Android) should help you out.

4-6. Russian languages: Kyrgyz, Tatar and Bashkir by Yandex Translate

Tatars celebrate Geektime mentioning their language on its website (traditional Tatar folk dance, YouTube)

Tatars celebrate Geektime mentioning their language on its website (traditional Tatar folk dance, YouTube)

Update: Google Translate announced on February 17, 2016 (nine days after this article was published) that it was adding Kyrgyz to its offerings. To get the full details, click here.

The Russian search engine Yandex has a few languages pinned down that are relevant to its users. One of them is Tatar with about 6.5 million speakers spoken mostly in the Russian state of Tatarstan and about half a million in Crimea, the southern Ukrainian island that Russian reannexed two years ago. Former Soviet Republic Kyrgyzstan can also find its state language, Kyrgyz (4.3 million), on Yandex Translate. Bashkir only has only 1.2 million speakers, but Yandex has them covered, too.

7-8. Native American Languages: Mayan and Querétaro Otomi by Microsoft Translator

Photo credit: Arian Zwegers / Creative Commons

Photo credit: Arian Zwegers / Creative Commons

Mayan is a 790,000-strong native language to Mexico, the most dominant of the 32 catalogued Mayan languages. To differentiate it from the other languages, linguists tend to say the language is Yucatec Mayan, but speakers rarely call it this way. Two other Mayan languages match its speaker numbers: Q’eqchi’ (800,000), K’iche’ (2.3 million).

Querétaro Otomi is hardly the most prominent language in the world, but for the 33,000 or so speakers in central Mexico, it’s an appreciated project by Microsoft Translator. The global effort to catalogue endangered languages will benefit greatly from technology. Various Native American languages throughout the Americas still have a few thousand speakers apiece whose source material can be added to services like Microsoft Translator to help enthusiastic learners or preservationists streamline the learning process. Google Translate has yet to get any American languages on its catalogue. It’s big brother, Mezquital Otomi, is spoken by 100,000.

9-10. Fictional languages: Klingon and Elvish (Sindarin)

Just in case you needed to watch Lord of the Rings in Elvish

Just in case you needed to watch Lord of the Rings in Elvish

If you wanted to find some of the most developed, fiction-based languages in the world, you won’t on Google Translate. The closest you’ll get is the linguistic geek language Esperanto, but nothing the likes of which Star Trek and Lord of the Rings fans would want.

But Google’s two biggest competitors can answer that call. Microsoft Translator offers Klingon translation in both Klingon script and Latin letters. Yandex Translate, the popular Russian service, recently made headlines by adding the Elvish dialect of Sindarin to its repertoire.

And of course, as you pine for more sources in your ancestral Klingonese tongue, let Rosetta Stone tease you with its April Fool’s prank from 2014.

Update: Google Translate announced on February 17, 2016 (nine days after this article was published) that it was adding Amharic, Pashto and Kyrgyz to its offerings. To get the full details, click here.

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  • Malik

    Tatar language in Tatarstan is absolutely different from Crimean Tatar. Make research beforehand.

  • Lewys Jenkins

    Google Translate should have these languages:
    Faroese
    Northern Sami
    Asturian
    Cherokee
    Manx
    Cornish
    Breton
    Occitan

    But they don’t, so yeah 😛

    • Xar Tario

      But the Cornish language has been extinct

  • Yu-Hsiang Chen

    Qhichwa should be as advanced as Cantonese.

  • Oooh Lalala

    Great stuff, I’m looking for a Romani or Sinti translator. I’m aware there is no “standard” for these languages spoken mostly by some of European Roma people, but a rough guide would be enough for my purposes.

  • Blake Cash

    Flemish is more than a dialect of Dutch, yet it is never offered in translations.

  • orionds

    I was born in Hong Kong but never learnt enough to read and write traditional Chinese adequately. I am fluent in spoken Cantonese having grown up using it.

    I find Google Translate pretty good with translating into traditional Chinese but when I listen, it is in Mandarin which I barely understand. However, with SayHi, I hear actual spoken Cantonese and it is perfect! It is completely human-like too!

    On top of this, because I speak Cantonese, I find sometimes the translations are slightly off, so I edit the English to get what I hear is the correct spoken Cantonese. For example, I changed “with hundreds”, in a sentence, to “producing hundreds” and I got the correct Cantonese. The first translation gave the equivalent of “together with”.

    The problem is SayHi is not available online for the PC or laptop. I wish Google would add spoken Cantonese to their translate app / site.

    I am now learning to read more Chinese because I can understand the characters as I read them while listening. I am really happy with SayHi.

    By the way, I teach English to Chinese students. With SayHi, I am now able to get students to REALLY understand English sentences and passages — not just words or expressions in isolation.

    Sometimes, I have misunderstandings when I speak or chat in English with students. Once, a student used “I don’t care”. He actually meant “I don’t mind”. I got angry of course. It was only afterwards that I realized that, in a Chinese-English dictionary, it would give the same translations for both “care” and “mind”. Though it would give the other translations, how would a Chinese student know the difference? So, I warn students about relying solely on dictionaries to understand English. In fact, they often use the wrong English in their written work. I can see the Cantonese in their work (because they are thinking in Cantonese).

    A student once told me (in Cantonese): “I found the Chinese for every word I did not understand in the sentence and yet I still don’t understand it.” Students fill their books with Chinese for individual words and yet, ultimately, still resort to pure memorization of the English words to prepare for tests and exams because they cannot express themselves adequately using their own English to answer the questions.

    SayHi is doing much, much more good for the Chinese students here learning English than ever before. The accepted belief is that students should learn English using English meanings. I used to believe this but the meanings are often more difficult than the word being checked, so I have found, over the years, there has been little real-life progress in their English.

    I believe with proper translations / interpretations, students will pick up the correct meanings in different contexts and learn the appropriate English to use to put across what they mean. I too often struggle with trying to understand what a student is trying to say in his/her written work, so I would prefer if he/she were present and I could ask what they wanted to say and then show them the correct English to use.

    I tried to contact SayHi to tell them that their app is a wonderful educational tool too if they can, for example, share the translations to other platforms, e.g. Google Docs / Drive where I store learning materials for students. For the moment, I have to copy-and-paste. When I update SayHi, everything is gone too.

    Google, please add spoken Cantonese to Google Translate. Then, I can use it on my PC / laptop and share the translations to Google Drive. I would really love this and so would my students! Other users can learn to speak Cantonese too.