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When reviewing suggested edits, I ran across this one. It took a post originally in French and Google Translated it to English. I approved it, as it gave the post a chance to survive, and it properly attributed that the post had been translated. It appears that two others did the same.

But should have I? It probably falls under a 'radical change', right?

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I think those are OK, as long as it seems like the translation makes sense. I've seen some such edits where I think the original foreign language post was easier to understand for an English-only reader. –  Andrew Barber Nov 27 '13 at 16:26
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Well, first off, if you're going to be editing a post you should leave it in as good of shape as you can when you're done with it. Running it through a translator and then not going back over it to improve the inevitable mistakes of the translator is a problem. I'd reject for that alone. And of course, saying that you used google translate is something that belongs in a revision comment, not the post itself. –  Servy Nov 27 '13 at 16:26
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I agree with @Servy. Just running it through Google Translate is a terrible edit. That post looks like crap. –  animuson Nov 27 '13 at 16:27
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If the OP can't post in English they may not be able to understand answers in English. –  ThisSuitIsBlackNot Nov 27 '13 at 16:32
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I've done this a few times, but I usually leave the original, and then add Google Translator to the top of the translation so it's obvious what I've done, as I suspect it saves people 30 seconds opening a tab, copy/pasting etc. I don't agree with replacing the original content with your translation though. –  JMK Nov 27 '13 at 17:35

2 Answers 2

Raw translation of language to language does a notoriously bad job when it comes to handling jargon. Such a translation may improve the post to get the non-jargon translated, but will often require specific edits to fix the jargon that was mistranslated.

For someone just running a post through an automatic translation this is not a sufficiently good edit and will require some additional work by someone who knows the language to be able to translate the idioms and jargon correctly (String interning has nothing to do with the burial of strings... or having a college student get your coffee).

The next bit is a bit conflicting between the two points:

  • The properly translated question is (may be) a seed for good content for the site.
  • The answers in a language that the OP is unfamiliar with will not be helpful to them - they won't necessarily be able to accept the right answer or help with clarification from comments or ask clarification of concepts on their own to help the answers be better answers.
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There are language specific Stack overflow sites. –  Cole Johnson Nov 27 '13 at 19:41
    
@ColeJohnson yep. There are. And on those sites, that language should be used rather than English (and people posting in english on there would have the same issue as someone posting French here). –  MichaelT Nov 27 '13 at 19:47

Generally speaking, yes, translation edits are a good thing. A post in a foreign language is not appropriate (except on multi-lingual sites) and heading for closure or deletion anyway. Translating the post salvages it.

Automatic translations tend not to do a good job, but they at least allow readers to determine whether there is some value in putting more effort. Even a bad automatic translation often allows people who don't speak the post's original language to determine whether the post should be closed, and to give it tags that route it towards the appropriate audience.

If the post is doomed anyway, there's no point in spending any effort on a proper translation. The automatic translation saves work in that case, so it's useful.

A good translation is the very antithesis of a radical change since it doesn't change the meaning of the post (indeed, it's one of the very few cases of edits that literally “clarify the meaning of the post (without changing that meaning)”). Even an automatic translation is an improvement, as long as there's a note that the translation is uncertain; it would be nice in that case to provide a link to the original revision inside the question, e.g. a footer stating

(automatic translation from the original French)

which makes things easier for a competent visitor to provide a proper translation.

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