Okay, I have had a lot of experience using Google’s translator as I kept on publishing “Interlingua multilingue,” and I have developed a certain experience in discovering the kind of vocabulary and constructions that it will probably be able to process successfully.
The first thing I did was to rephrase Martin Luther King’s “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter to “Our lives begin to end when we begin to be silent about things that are important.” This produced the Spanish translation “Nuestras vidas comienzan a terminar cuando empezamos a guardar silencio sobre las cosas que son importantes.”
Now this is a very good translation in Spanish. It used two different words to translate “to begin”: “comenzar and “empezar.”
Now if I were going to work only with Spanish, I would stop here. But I decided that I wanted to work with other languages also.
So I changed the sentence to “Our lives begin to end if we acquire the habit of being silent about things that are important.” This avoided a second use of “begin,” which is a little clumsy and repetitious in English.
The word “acquire” in this sentence is a little heavy and formal in English, but it is related to the vocabulary of the Romance languages, and it has a better chance of producing coherent translations.
Here is what it produced in a variety of languages:
Spanish: “Nuestras vidas comienzan a terminar si adquirimos el hábito de guardar silencio sobre las cosas que son importantes.”
Catalan: Les nostres vides comencen a acabar si adquirim l’hàbit de guardar silenci sobre les coses que són importants.
Galician: “Nosas vidas comezan a rematar, adquirir o hábito de estar en silencio sobre as cousas que son importantes.”
The syntax of this translation is bad in the “if” clause, since “adquirir o hábito is an infinitive phrase. So I did a new trial translation by getting Google to translate “if we obtain” into Galician. This gave me “Se obtemos.”
I then had Google translate “We acquire.” This gave me “adquirimos.”
So I then changed the Galician sentence to “Nosas vidas comezan a rematar se adquirimos o hábito de estar en silencio sobre as cousas que son importantes.”
I cannot be sure that this sentence is entirely correct, for Galician could require a subjunctive, “si adquiramos,” instead of an indicative in this construction. I don’t know Galician well enough to be sure about this, so I will guess that this translation is correct.
I then translated this sentence into Catalan. This got me:
Catalan: “Les nostres vides comencen a acabar si adquirim l’hàbit de guardar silenci sobre les coses que són importants.”
This looks correct to me.
Next I tried Portuguese, and I got:
Portuguese: “Nossas vidas começam a terminar, se adquirir o hábito de ficar em silêncio sobre as coisas que são importantes.”
I know this is not correct, so I changed “adquirir to “adquirirmos,” which I am pretty sure is correct in Portuguese from my own considerable experience with the language. So I changed the sentence to
Portuguese: “Nossas vidas começam a terminar, se adquirirmos o hábito de ficar em silêncio sobre as coisas que são importantes.”
Next I tried to translate this sentence into French. Google’s translator gave me “Nos vies commencent à la fin si l’on prend l’habitude de se taire sur les choses qui sont importantes.”
This translation is not very good. I don’t believe from past studies in French that “Nos vies commencent à la fin” is a good construction in French.
So then, after trying out a few alternative constructions, I keyed in “He is starting to go there,” which gave me “Il commence à y aller. ” This I know is good French.
So I changed the French sentence to “Nos vies commencent à finir si l’on prend l’habitude de se taire sur les choses qui sont importantes.”
I decided, however, to change this sentence to “Nos vies commence à finir si nous prenons l’habitude de nous taire sur les choses qui sont importantes.” I know enough French to know that this “if” clause is grammatical in French.
Finally, I tried to translate “Our lives begin to end when we begin to be silent about things that are important” into Italian. This is what I got: “Le nostre vite cominciano a fine quando si comincia a tacere sulle cose che sono importanti.”
Okay, The first part of this translation is correct: “Le nostre vite cominciano.” But “a fine quando si comincia” is not very good. So I keyed into the translator “We begin” and got “Cominciamo.” I know enough Italian to feel that there is a ninety-five percent chance that this form was correct, but I wanted to use Google’s translator to verify this. Finally I was able to produce the following sentence:
Italian: “Le nostre vite cominciano a fine quando cominciamo a tacere sulle cose che sono importanti.”
This seems to be a good translation though I am not completely sure that an indicative can be used her instead of a subjunctive (the uses of subjunctives can vary considerably from one Romance language to another).
So rephrasing this sentence the way I did enabled me to get good translations of the English sentence “Our lives begin to end when we begin to be silent about things that are important” into Spanish, Catalan, Galician, Portuguese, French, and Italian, though I had to do a little maneuvering to come up with what should be reasonable translations in all of these languages.
I hope this example will give you some insight into the kind of knowledge you need to bring into play if you want to use Google’s translator effectively.