Google Translate and AirBnBs version of Chinese whispers

I had an inquiry from someone from China and it was in Chinese writing, which I don’t understand at all. AirBnB offered to use Google Translate so I did that and he initially appeared to be asking if the dates were available. I have IB but sometimes newbies ask anyway.

Then he said (translated) there was an error when he tried to book but I checked and those dates were available.

Then I got the following translation: “How to reach traffic that we now live in cities”. Which looked like the sort of random message a bot would generate so I reported it and declined his request saying I didn’t feel comfortable with this guest. Then he sent a message in English that said: “how to get your home” which I guess is what he meant initially but I had already declined and it was late and went to bed.

This morning there was a further translated message: “Why is my application is always wrong to send self Samsung Galaxy smartphone.” Which my guess means something like “How come I can never book using my Samsung Galaxy smartphone?” which is a question for Air to answer, not me.

Firstly if Air is going to offer a translation service then maybe make sure it works properly. Secondly I should be able to set something so that I only answer queries in English (or at least European languages written in Latin script). I am keen to help people travel whose first language is not English. I have traveled extensively myself and relied on the patience and kindness of strangers when no one spoke English (though, off topic, I do try and learn some basic phrases before visiting any country). But the problem here is (a) being sure what question they are asking, (b) not being sure they understand the reverse translated answer and © not knowing if they have read the listing properly. It feels like an elaborate electronic version of Chinese whispers, literally in this case. If you have ever translated something complicated from English into, say, French and back again, using Google translate or babelfish you’ll know what I mean.

This morning I undid the “report” and replied and explained that I couldn’t understand the translation and he needed to write in English (which he did once so is clearly able to do). I mentioned “Google Translate” and Air message had redacted “Google”, hilarious. So get your act together Air and if you offer services like this make sure they actually work and someone doesn’t end up stranded and hungry in the middle of nowhere because they didn’t understand they need a car to get to my place and have to bring their own food. And let me specify “Only messages in English” because I’d rather an enquirer’s own poor English translation than Google’s nonsensical one. And if they have no English at all then they can’t read the listing and can’t come here because there is too much they need to know.

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It is a lot of work. I use google translate. I will translate, then copy the translation and translate back into English to see if it makes sense. It takes so much time! Of course I always thing “just one message more” but then there are more questions.

I think it’s perfectly reasonable to decline a guest when you can not communicate. Sure, we can try, but at some point it’s just not going to work out.

There are some great translation apps. Click here for an example.