Don’t get caught writing ‘Scymraeg’

It’s safe to say that the majority of us are guilty of having used Google Translate at some point in our lives. Whether it be trying to order a meal on holiday abroad or desperately attempting to email a foreign colleague with information on a job, we’ve all given into the temptation and ease of online translation. However, the question of accuracy in official translations or in the public sphere has long been a topic of debate – particularly recently in Wales.

Users have taken to Twitter and Flickr with the hashtag ‘Scymraeg’ –  ‘Scummy Welsh’ – to express their disapproval at nonsensical translations. For example:


Image: Rhys Wynne via, under CC BY-SA 2.0 license

Putting a _ instead of the welsh character ŵ   

“Word porridge” is how comedian Gary Slaymaker has described these errors in his stand-up routine. However, these flawed translations have not only riled the Twittersphere but also raised concerns about the effects of online translation in schools, with worries that it affects children’s capacity to learn Welsh properly when they are using unreliable computer translation to complete homework, an offence 5/6 admit to.

All of this matters. The Welsh language has huge cultural importance, with around 19% of Wales’ population currently fluent. That number is estimated to rise with the Welsh Government unveiling a new strategy last year, ‘Cymraeg 2050’, to increase the number of Welsh speakers to 1 million by 2050.

So it’s no surprise that clumsy translation errors grate with some Welsh speakers, and cause a mixture of amusement, bemusement and annoyance.

Nor is this a new problem. Since the arrival of Welsh into Google’s translation engine in 2009, the question of its accuracy has been under scrutiny, with people spotting errors and unfortunately finding more than expected.

Automatically generated or poor Welsh translations have long been a source of internet interest too. Road signs are a repeated theme, no doubt due to their public nature. Mistakes were found everywhere from a sign meant to read ‘disabled parking’ translated as ‘park to bake the disabled’ to ‘cyclists dismount’ being turned into a warning for a bladder disease.

Google Translate will remain a useful tool to get out of sticky situations and translate the odd word here and there. However, is it sufficient for important messages on public display? To avoid embarrassing controversy and get the most accurate translations, a human is always the best bet.


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