The last time I tried it, probably years ago, it was rudimentary. I winced at how crude the translation was.
But a year in technology roughly equals 25 human years, so in the short time that I didn’t keep in touch, Google Translate improved leaps and bounds (at least for English to Vietnamese).
Recently I received a commission to translate an English technology document into Vietnamese. You know, technology updates faster than a girl can change her clothes. What didn’t exist in Vietnam 5 years ago is now suddenly very popular, and the Vietnamese vocabulary doesn’t update fast enough to keep up with all the new terms in software and hardware. I was left stranded with how to translate certain things into Vietnamese that would make sense for a non-English speaking, non-geek average Vietnamese-native.
Enter Google Translate. I was impressed. For the document I worked on, Google Translate got about 85% correct. The 15% wasn’t incorrect (all numbers are guesstimates :)). It was more about the nuances in the Vietnamese language. If you know how to fine-tune it, it’ll be perfect Vietnamese. Just don’t type in “Will you marry me?” and expect your Vietnamese sweetheart to be thrilled with the translation.
What it means is that a non-English speaking Vietnamese can read the document translated by Google and get a good idea of the meaning. I ran a couple of websites through it, from the heavyweight Wikipedia in English to Amazon, The Economist, YouTube, etc. all the popular websites. It works really well. If the non-English speaking average Vietnamese-native only needs to read English stuff, s/he will be fine not learning English. Live on Google Translate, a reliable computer & Internet (& and pray the government doesn’t censor it :)).
How about things from the other side? Vietnamese translated into English? Same as above, but with only about 70% accuracy. I punched in a few websites popular in Vietnam like Vnexpress.net, zing.vn, kenh14.vn. The translation was ok. You can get a gist of things, but not the details.
So there you go, have fun with Google Translate. It works better than I expected :)
For me, if a language is Romanized and use abc letter, feed it into Google. The browser will spit out an usable translation. Whew… Italian, Spanish, and French things, no more fear!
Now I only need to learn Chinese and Japanese letters :)
PS: Google Translate gives me a hilarious Vietnamese translation of this post!