What on earth could possibly translate into “Today’s mother cooking something to eat some rats”, or “Like a chicken in rats with”?
Yesterday this cringeworthy excerpt from a Thai English language learning book was posted on a number of sites and caused a lot of questions about a number of topics. How can Google translate be so wrong? Do Thai mothers and children really eat rats? Is this really the standard of the Thai education system?
I thought I would put a silver lining to this cloud and turn it into a very useful language lesson – both for people learning Thai, Thais learning English and people learning other languages in general. I think the overarching theme here is “When learning a language, you need to learn to think in the mindset of the people who use the language – not translate word for word”.
Here’s the Video:
As mentioned in the clip, this is particularly disturbing as there has been discussion recently of cracking down on foreign Native-Speaker English teachers in Thailand and replacing them with native Thais. The idea was that with a few weeks training, the Thai teachers would have their English at a level competent enough to bring Thai kids up to where they should be in the region when it comes to English proficiency.
The most recent English Proficiency rank for Thailand btw is pretty dismal – they rank 69 out of 70 countries.
I created a spreadsheet that you see in the video with the original Thai, the book’s bad translation, my translation and then out of curiosity I put the original Thai through Google Translate to see if indeed it is the culprit. It seems it is – however it also seems like the author doctored a few things – in most cases making it worse than the Google Translate version.
|Origingal Thai||Dodgy English Translation||Correct English Translation||Google Translate|
|สวัสดีตอนเย็นคุณพ่อ คุณแม่||Hello parents evening.||Good evening parents.||Good evening parents.|
|ลูกกลับมาจากโรงเรียนแล้ว||Children returning from school then.||The child (children) has (have) arrived home from school.||Children return from school|
|เป็นอย่างไรบ้างลูก วันนี้เรียนเข้าใจหรือเปล่า||This is how children learn to understand, or blank.||How did it go? Did you understand everything you learnt today? (To a child)||This is how children learn to understand it.|
|หิวข้าวไหม แม่มีขนมให้ลูกทาน||Hungry mother not to have children eats snacks.||Are you hungry? I (Mum) have some sweets / cake(s) for you. (To child)||Even when there hungry children eat sweets.|
|ไปอาบน้ำแล้วลงมาทานขนม||Shower before you go down to eat dessert.||Go and wash first then come down for dessert (sweets / cake / candy)||To shower and then eat dessert.|
|จะได้ทำการบ้าน||Will have homework||… so you can do your homework.||Will have homework|
|วันนี้คุณแม่ทำกับข้าวอะไรให้หนูทานบ้าง||Mother cooking something to eat some rats.||Mum, what have you made for dinner (or other meal) for me?||Today, you can cook anything for me to eat it.|
|มีไก่ทอดของชอบหนูด้วย||Like a chicken in rats with.||I’ve made fried chicken – your favourite.||There’s like rat with fried chicken.|
The moral of the story – when learning a language, understand that to use the language efficiently and coherently, work under the principle that you’re laying down a new operating system for your mind.
This is the guiding principle of my book "Cracking Thai Fundamentals – A Thai Operating System For Your Mind".
I hope that the Thai government thinks twice before they go ahead with their policy of purging native English teachers out of the system. By all means ensure that quality standards are enforced, but I feel that the language level of many Thai educators and authors right now isn’t quite there yet.