Translating ”The ugly duckling” with help from Google, Bing and a translator?!

Ugly-ducklingToday many people use Google Translate or Bing Translator to quickly translate a sentence or similar if they want to know what the recipe says, what people write on Facebook or in other multilingual forums etc. – and for these purposes I agree that it’s a very useful, fast and cheap tool. You don’t send a sentence from e.g. Facebook to a professional translator to understand, what a friend of yours is doing today! You could alternatively write your friend back asking for a translation in your language, which would be more natural and getting you to interact with each other.

When it comes to more serious and professional subjects, then I’m an ardent advocate of using a real translator, who considers more aspects and factors – and not just look at each word separately.

To demonstrate my point, I’ve taken the beginning of Hans Christian Andersen’s story of the ugly duckling and translated it via Google Translate, Bing translator and finally I’ve added the translation done by a person.

H.C. Andersen’s version (Danish):

”Der var saa deiligt ude paa Landet; det var Sommer, Kornet stod gult, Havren grøn, Høet var reist i Stakke nede i de grønne Enge, og der gik Storken på sine lange, røde Been og snakkede ægyptisk, for det Sprog havde han lært af sin Moder. Rundtom Ager og Eng var der store Skove, og midt i Skovens dybe Søer; jo, der var rigtignok deiligt derude paa landet! Midt i Solskinnet laae der en gammel Herregaard med dybe Canaler rundt om, ogfra Muren og ned til Vandet voxte store Skræppeblade, der vare saa hæie, at smaa Børn kunde staae opreiste under de største; der var ligesaa vildsomt derinde, som i den tykkeste Skov, og her laae en And på sin Rede; hunskulde ruge sine smaae Ællinger ud, men nu var hun næsten kjed af det, fordi det varede saa længe, og hun sjældent fik Visit; de andre Ænder holdt mere af at svømme om i Canalerne, end at løbe op og sidde under et Skræppeblad for at snaddre med hende.” (

The story is originally written in Danish (1844) – The language has changes slightly over the past 150 years, but not more than every other language. This will of course affect the translations of Google and Bing, as they are programmed with today’s norms, which of course only supports my argument that translators are more flexible and can take more aspects in to consideration. I’ve listed some of the changes in the box below.


Today (2013)
Saa/paa Så/på
deiligt dejligt
guult gult
hæie høje
Nouns start with a capital letter Nouns start with a small letter

Bing & Google

The next two translations are done by Google and Bing, please note that not all words are translated, especially in Bing’s translation, Google has managed quite well to translate the words and make some sense of the text, which is also written in a typical H.C. Andersen-style.

Bing translation tool:

“That was so deiligt out on the land; It was Summer, Grain was guult, the Green, the installations over the reist was Havren in Stacks in the Green Meadows, and there went the storks on its long, red Been and talked Egyptian, for the language he had learned from his Mother. Rundtom Causes and Eng there were large Forests, and in the middle of the woods deep Lakes; Yes, there was indeed deiligt out there in the country! In the midst of Sunlight an old laae Herregaard with deep Canaler around, and from the wall and down to the water voxte Rumex leaf large item so that small Children høie customer staae opreiste under the largest; There were directors or vildsomt in there, as in the thickest Forest, and here an And on his Prepared laae; She was hatching its smaae Ællinger out, but now she was almost kjed of it because it lasted so long, and she was given the rare Business; the other Ducks kept more of swimming about in Canalerne, than to get up and sit under a Rumex leaf to snaddre with her.”

Google translate tool:

“It was so lovely out in the country, it was summer, grain stood guult, Oats green, the hay was gone in Stacks down in the green meadows and went stork on his long red legs chattered in the Egyptian, the language he had learned of his mother. All around fields and meadows were great forests, and in the middle of the woods deep lakes; yes, there was indeed lovely out in the country! In the midst of sunshine lay an old manor with deep canals around, and from the wall and down to the water grew great burdock leaves, were so tall that little children could stand upright under the tallest of which was just as savage in there, as in the thickest forest, and here lay a duck on her nest, she would hatch its small fiery Ducklings, but now she was almost tired of it because it lasted so long, and she seldom had Visit, the other ducks liked much better to swim about in Canal are, than to climb and sit under a dock leaf to snaddre with her.”

Translator’s version:

“It was lovely summer weather in the country, and the golden corn, the green oats, and the haystacks piled up in the meadows looked beautiful. The stork walking about on his long red legs chattered in the Egyptian language, which he had learnt from his mother. The corn-fields and meadows were surrounded by large forests, in the midst of which were deep pools. It was, indeed, delightful to walk about in the country. In a sunny spot stood a pleasant old farm-house close by a deep river, and from the house down to the water side grew great burdock leaves, so high, that under the tallest of them a little child could stand upright. The spot was as wild as the centre of a thick wood. In this snug retreat sat a duck on her nest, watching for her young brood to hatch; she was beginning to get tired of her task, for the little ones were a long time coming out of their shells, and she seldom had any visitors. The other ducks liked much better to swim about in the river than to climb the slippery banks, and sit under a burdock leaf, to have a gossip with her.” (

The main difference between Google and the translator’s translation is the sentence structure/word order. Furthermore, the translator has also had the opportunity to adapt the writing style and choose between words (synonyms) to ensure the same connotation.

This translation is doubly the only English version you can find, there might be many other versions of the same text, all depending on the translator and his/her chosen strategy – which, of course, is a smaller minus by using a real translator, but still the better solution. When it comes to translating legal documents, then, on the other hand, it’s most utterly necessary that the text does not come in more than one version and that the translators choose the same strategy, as it otherwise can have crucial consequences, both legally and money-wise.

Your translation should always be tailored: purpose, subject, genre, target group, situation etc. in order to fulfill the purpose and secure a good translation. (see also



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