Millions of grateful Mandarin students have used Google Translate to find answers to tricky translation exercises and have confidently written down whatever answer it spits out.
Unfortunately, though, Google Translate is far from being the answer to your Chinese translation to English prayers.
Let's say you want to find the Chinese translation to English for this sentence: 我实在不明白 and plug it into Google Translates "Translate Chinese to English" function. According to them, the English translation is "I really don't understand." That's a good, solid translation!
From that example, you probably think 实在 means "really." And you'd be (basically) right. Except, when you try to translate the Chinese to English for these popular song lyrics: 姑娘们说我不实实在在, Google Translate claims the proper English translation is "the girls say I am not real," when it’s actually "the women say I'm not hip (with it)."
This usage is obviously more colloquial and Google Translate cannot translate the Chinese to English correctly as a result.
Recently, a few students have asked me about the accuracy of Google Translates Chinese translation to English function.
I discourage students from using it because it's often wrong - and overly formal - but also because beginner and intermediate students haven't yet learned enough Mandarin to distinguish between a good and a bad translation. Plus, trying to use it to quickly translate Chinese to English actually ends up hurting your Mandarin.
For beginner and intermediate learners, there's no substitute for time spent practicing (and making mistakes!) with your teacher and reviewing on your own time. It's only by investing time speaking, listening, and reading Chinese that you will develop a real sense for the language what the Chinese call (语感) and be able to distinguish for yourself the difference between a good, accurate Chinese translation to English and an inaccurate one.
If you need to translate Chinese to English and don't have a native speaker to advise you, here are some quick tips for figuring it out on your own:
Check out these real life examples of Chinese translations to English gone wrong