Using ChatGPT for Translation: An Essential Guide

Adedamola Ojedokun
27 Sep 2023

9 min. read


Let’s play a game. Name three things ChatGPT can’t do. And we’ll tell you that you are mistaken.

The easiest way to win: assume ChatGPT can do everything.

Generate programming code?


Solve mathematical problems?

You bet.

Can ChatGPT translate languages?

With great panache.

Since you are most interested in the ChatGPT translation capability, let’s delve into it further.

Pro tip: Streamline your language translation process and efficiently manage content, ensure quality, and promote collaboration using the localization management platform – Centus. Learn more.

Can ChatGPT translate languages?

ChatGPT collage The short answer is yes. The long answer is that ChatGPT's translations can match the quality of popular translation engines. ChatGPT is built on the GPT (Generative Pre-trained Transformer) architecture, capable of creating a human-like language from huge volumes of training data.

It’s possible to use ChatGPT for translation because of its great language comprehension and generation skills. It can bridge communication gaps between people who speak different languages, making it a crucial tool for businesses interested in entering new markets.

Limitations of ChatGPT translation

Unlike specialist machine translation models such as Google Translate or DeepL, ChatGPT was not created with translation in mind. As a result, ChatGPT's translations might not always match the accuracy and fluency that these specialized systems offer.

ChatGPT’s translations usually rely on patterns that it learned during training, which may result in inaccuracies or inappropriate phrasings in some circumstances.

Strengths of ChatGPT translation

While ChatGPT is not the ultimate translation tool, it does excel in some areas. Its versatility is its greatest asset.

It may translate text from a wide variety of languages, even those that are not frequently spoken, whereas specialist translation systems may focus primarily on widely spoken languages.

ChatGPT is thus a good choice for translating less common languages.

Human assistance and post-editing

Human assistance or post-editing is usually recommended to produce the best outcomes with ChatGPT translations. Human translators can evaluate and modify ChatGPT translations, ensuring accuracy and fluency, especially for complex texts.

This approach combines the accuracy of a professional translator with the efficiency of AI-driven translation.

What languages does ChatGPT translate?

Although the translation capabilities of ChatGPT are not as wide as those of specialized machine translation systems like Google Translate, it can nevertheless be a useful resource for translating multiple languages.

Here is a list of languages that ChatGPT can translate:

Major languages

ChatGPT can translate between several major languages, including but not limited to:

  • English
  • Spanish
  • French
  • German
  • Italian
  • Portuguese
  • Dutch
  • Ukrainian
  • Chinese (Simplified and Traditional)
  • Japanese
  • Korean
  • Arabic

Less common languages

While ChatGPT excels at translating major languages, it falls short when it comes to less common languages. For such languages, translation accuracy and fluency can vary greatly.

Exercise caution when using ChatGPT to translate lesser-known languages because of the high likelihood of errors.

Language pairs

ChatGPT can translate between multiple language pairs. It isn't confined to translating text from English to other languages or vice versa. It can translate between low-resource languages as well as uncommon language combinations, giving a wider range of linguistic options.

How ChatGPT translation works

a person with an image projected on them Source: Pexels

Here is a breakdown of how ChatGPT translation works.

Neural machine translation (NMT)

ChatGPT uses NMT to mimic how the human brain understands and generates language. This allows ChatGPT to learn from massive amounts of multilingual text input.

Encoder-decoder architecture

The encoder-decoder architecture is the core of ChatGPT's translation capabilities.

The encoder takes input text in one language and turns it into a context vector, which is a fixed-length representation. This context vector contains the semantic meaning of the input text.

The decoder then uses the context vector to create the translation in the desired language.

Attention mechanism

The attention mechanism, which ChatGPT also uses, is one of the basic advancements of NMT. This approach allows the language models to generate the translation while focusing on certain areas of the input text.

It ensures that the model understands and translates the context, even for long and complex statements.

Multilingual training

ChatGPT's translation skills are not restricted to a few languages but rather to a large number of languages. This is accomplished by training the model on a large corpus of text from many languages.

During training, the model learns to align and map the words and phrases of each of the languages. This allows it to perform translations across a wide range of language pairs.

Contextual understanding

The ability of ChatGPT to understand context is one of its unique features. This means that it can generate translations that are both grammatically correct and contextually relevant.

It considers the overall context of the dialogue, enabling more coherent and meaningful translations in a chat or text-based engagement.

Real-time translation

ChatGPT's real-time translation makes it an invaluable tool for communicating across language barriers.

ChatGPT can give instant translations to foster seamless communication, whether you're conversing with someone from a different language background or trying to understand foreign text.

How accurate is ChatGPT translation?

The accuracy of ChatGPT varies based on the language pair being translated. It excels at commonly spoken languages such as English, Spanish, French, and German. You may expect great accuracy as well as fluent and coherent translations for these pairs.

Training data

The quality and quantity of training data for a particular language pair also affect ChatGPT translation accuracy. The accuracy can be affected if training data is scarce or of poor quality. Well-represented languages, on the other hand, tend to have more accurate translations.

Context sensitivity

ChatGPT recognizes context to some extent, but it may struggle with extremely context-dependent languages such as Chinese and Japanese. Its accuracy can be affected when dealing with idiomatic expressions or complex grammatical structures.

Domain-specific knowledge

ChatGPT may not always deliver reliable translations for specialized fields such as legal or medical texts. It does not have the required knowledge that human translators do.

Ambiguity handling

Languages usually contain ambiguous words or phrases with several meanings. ChatGPT may occasionally use the wrong interpretation, leading to less reliable translations.

Sentence length and complexity

Shorter, simpler sentences produce more accurate translations. ChatGPT's accuracy may decline as phrases become longer and more complicated.

How to improve ChatGPT translation quality

a perso with a tablet Source: Pexels

Here’s how to make the most of ChatGPT’s translation capabilities:

Provide context

One of the main advantages of ChatGPT, which sets it apart from widely-used translation tools such as Google Translate, is its ability to recognize context.

Context recognition can be the critical difference between a mere word-for-word translation and a translation that genuinely captures the author's or speaker's intended message.

To enhance the quality of ChatGPT translation, use these prompts to provide context:

Translate [text to translate in Spanish] into English from the perspective of a native Spanish speaker.

This prompt will preserve cultural nuances in the translation.

Translate [text to translate] into English. The text pertains to a World War II battle.

This prompt will preserve military and historical terminology.

Specify the type of text

Specifying the type of text you want ChatGPT to translate can also enhance the accuracy of your translation.

For instance, is it an idiom, a song, a financial document, or a standard text? Simply informing ChatGPT about the type of text you wish to translate helps it deliver more accurate translations.

Use the following prompt to specify the type of text you want to translate:

Translate the [Bible quote/ financial report/ proverb/medical document] into [target language].

Use style transfer

In some cases, when you’re translating, the output may appear technical or unsuitable for the target audience. You can adapt the tone and style of the translation to align with the target audience by using style transfer in ChatGPT.

For instance, if you’re translating a legal document, the translation can retain the original meaning while using simpler language.

Use these prompts to use style transfer:

Translate [source text] into [target language] using layman's terms.

Translate [source text] into [target language]. Apply style transfer and make the translated text suitable for a [target audience].

Use summarized translation

Sometimes, you may want to understand the text’s core message without reading it all.

To get a summarized translation, ask ChatGPT to provide a "summarized" or "condensed" version of the target text.

Here are the prompts you can use:

  • Provide a condensed yet descriptive translation of [source text] in Spanish.
  • Provide a summarized translation of [source text] in English.

ChatGPT translation tips & best practices

Although ChatGPT is a powerful language model, it is not without flaws, and knowing how to maximize its possibilities will considerably improve your translation.

Here are tips for efficient and accurate ChatGPT translations:

Provide clear and concise input

Avoid using long, complex statements or ambiguous language. The tool works best when you input well-structured and simple language.

For example, rather than stating, "Translate this complex sentence with main and subordinate clauses into French," simply enter, "Translate this sentence into French."

Specify the source and target languages

Ensure you mention both the source and target languages in your prompt. For instance, you can say, "Translate the following English text into Spanish" so that the model can understand your intent.

This eliminates any form of confusion and ensures that you receive a translation in the language you desire.

Break down complex texts

If you need to translate a long or complex text, consider splitting it up into smaller units. This strategy may result in more accurate translations since ChatGPT’s algorithm can handle shorter sentences more effectively.

You can piece the segments together to form a coherent translation after translating them individually.

Use proper grammar and spelling

Ensure your input text is grammatically correct and free of spelling errors. When working with well-formed source text, ChatGPT is more likely to deliver accurate translations.

If there are errors in the input text, the model may find it hard to provide a coherent translation.

Contextualize your request

Context is indispensable in obtaining accurate translations in complex scenarios that go beyond basic language translation tasks. Add context to your request if some specific terms or phrases could have numerous interpretations.

For instance, when translating the word "bank," indicate whether you mean a financial organization or the side of a river.

Experiment and refine

Experiment with different inputs and phrases to increase the quality of translation. The capabilities of ChatGPT can vary depending on how complex and specific the input is. Hence, improving your requests over time can give better results.

Understand limitations

Just like any AI, ChatGPT has limitations. It may have difficulty understanding rare languages, dialects, or highly specialized terminology. If you run into problems, consider using human translators or more specialized translation technologies.

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