Two White Girls Become Cunning Linguists via Google Translate

I can’t say I’m always the most confident Urdu speaker. When my mother’s younger siblings came from Pakistan a few years ago,with a slew of adorable baby cousins (okay, it was three), I was happy to once again immerse myself in the language. But nowadays it’s rare that I have the chance to practice Urdu, which is why this video made me giggle. Two girls decide they want to order Indian food — but in Hindi. So of course they turn to the Interwebs for help. Because on the Internet, nobody knows you’re brown. Using Google Translate, they successfully order themselves some takeout. I like the part at the end where the dude on the phone is like, “Will there be anything else?” And the girls just keep “saying” the address instead.

Alas, the English-Urdu translation tool doesn’t narrate the translation for you. But maybe someday. A girl can dream. Then maybe I can impress the local kebab-wala with my fluent Urdu.

Hat Tip: Kunjan

30 thoughts on “Two White Girls Become Cunning Linguists via Google Translate

  1. My knowledge of Hindi is limited but I thought the translation was overly formal for ordering take out. Was that why the guy laughed at the end when saying goodbye?

  2. Good point, John. I thought it was pretty stylized as well. Maybe he thought it was some old-school Hindi-purist?

  3. If I were on the other end of the line, I would dismiss it as a crank call.

    I have noticed that Google Translate translates phrases literally . The sentences from GT were grammatically incorrect and used words and constructs that would be out of place on a Doordarshan news telecast in Hindi.

    Google Translate does a good job, but it is not perfect. I do not speak Spanish, but on occasion I put up FB statuses in Spanish. I compose the status in English, translate it in GT and send it over to a Spanish speaking friend. They always have to correct the literal translation and the grammar to make it comprehensible.

    Nope, GT is no good if you want to learn a new language. If however, you want to sound like an imbecile in another language, GT can more than help.

  4. Frankly I thought the restaurant chap was going to resort to English (its surprising he didn’t think it was recorded or automatic). I think he laughed at the end because his question wasn’t answered and she signed off with Alvida, which I thought was particularly formal. But the main thing is it worked and the machines are getting smarted, better stop those language classes..

    • Soon the BabelFish will be discovered and God will disappear in a poof of logic.

  5. I think I agree with “A hindi speaker” . The translation wasn’t formal. It was literal. The limitations of computers.,

  6. However, the fish curry looked positively like saucy McDonald’s/Applebee’s type of crap food.

    True Indian fish curry from the south has mango and coconut in it, and it’s NOT sweet.

    I’m tired of desi food being too…disgusting, cheapish, sweet, crappy, and fake.

  7. Just wondering how did you manage to understand what he said when he was taking orders? By the way.. Hindi and Urdu are almost the same when spoken..

  8. Really cool, wish I could have seen their screen a little better, and was a little curious whether they were understanding the response well enough.

  9. Linguistics is always complicated! Some of my friends use Urdu at Home to get their feet wet in Urdu. (www.urduathome.com) As for myself, being a fan of Urdu (and ghazals, shaayayri and qawwali by association), I think posts like these will revive interest in the language.

  10. Thanks for the giggle. Alvida–ha ha. Bet the guy was just playing along. I’ve noticed this about our people in many different contexts–we just live and let live.

    I myself use google translator all the time, all the time to communicate with people where I live in Europe. The translator has improved since 2008. I even write formal letters and publishable articles with it!

  11. I’m a tiny, tiny bit skeptical for a slightly ridiculous reason. The girls give their address as ’138 Milton.’ While the video isn’t tied to their identity in any particular way (it was posted on youtube by Google) and therefore it’s not that easy to infer what city they’re in, it still struck me as a little crazy that they posted a video on the internet with their address. Then I noticed that they appear to live in an apartment or unit, because their door opens out onto a stairway. So when did they restaurant ever get their unit number? I realize there are some subdivided houses where each unit has its own street address, but it’s not that usual and usually the ‘front door’ of such units open out onto the street. Also the delivery guy didn’t seem to be surprised by their cameraperson. (Or, for that matter, their whiteness.) I mean, maybe it’s totally real, but it struck me as slightly too smooth.

    • I too at first thought they lived in an apartment building, but if you look again you’ll notice that it’s actually a unit of a house, with the small space between the door and staircase. Also, don’t most, if not all, units have their own addresses anyway? And where I live, such units with staircases usually have buzzers where you don’t have to go all the way down the stairs to let someone in, when you can just buzz them in. I personally would never try such an experiment in a language that i’m totally unfamiliar with lest i should make a real fool outta myself, especially a restaurant from which i’ll be ordering on a regular basis – don’t need the waiters/delivery peeps/cooks snickering behind my back or coming up with a malicious nickname (i deal with regulars at work and we have nicknames for plenty of them)!

      “Soon the BabelFish will be discovered and God will disappear in a poof of logic”

      Good ol’ altavista babelfish…did the trick for me and my friends back in high school when we would literally type up entire essays in english and get it translated in french for French ecriture, where 90% of it made absolutely no sense…our grades would depend on whether the teachers were as lazy as we were.

  12. I still don’t get how they figured out what he was saying unless this is the Google Translator’s detect language feature. Also what kind of Indian restaurant answers a phone call from a client in Hindi?

    I can’t believe they ordered fish curry. I’m Bengali and supposed to love fish curry but I hate anything with fish in it.

  13. I still don’t get how they figured out what he was saying unless this is the Google Translator’s detect language feature.

    I don’t think they realized what he was saying at all, which is why when he said in Urdu/Hindi “anything else?” twice, they literally responded with the address instead of saying “no”…but to be honest you don’t have to understand what the other person is saying really when you’re ordering food. You just need to convey what you want, how much of it, and your address really.

    • Ravi, it’s just a subliminal attempt to brainwash people through repeated typing of that word. ;)

  14. I can’t believe they ordered fish curry. I’m Bengali and supposed to love fish curry but I hate anything with fish in it.

    You take that back. You take that back right now!

  15. This seemed pretty convincing to me… Even though the grammar wasn’t always 100% it was understandable what they wanted… ordering food is not too difficult.. “I want 2 basmati rice” “I want 3 samosas” etc. Also, I agree that they probably had no idea what the guy was saying in response.. they just had their cued up lines ready… hence the ahh! and cringe-face near the end before she repeats the address (What’s he saying, what do I do now?” look). I also think the guy who brought the stuff did look at the camera like “er, why are they taping this” and then went to depart as quickly as possible (Also, the guy who delivered it may most likely NOT be the guy who answered the phone, and therefore not even know it was ordered in Hindi).

    I also assumed that fish curry was more Bengali style than S. Indian.. though I agree that a lot of Indian food in the U.S. is kinda of blah and overly oily. I hope for more diversity… so many people in the U.S. don’t even know that there are so many other styles of food beyond chicken tikka masala and naan.

    Anyways, thanks for sharing, it was amusing.

  16. (1) Did you just get away with using Cunning Linguists in the title?

    (2) Hate fish curry?! No, no you can’t be Bengali. Just wait ’til your father gets home…

    • Are you the new defendor of Sepia Mutiny? Young Turk? Dude, learn to discern humor from a serious comment, otherwise you’ll be doing a lot of head-slapping.