Singapore Government strives to ensure the three official languages – Chinese, Malay and Tamil – are used properly in translations

Translation service by the Singapore Government


  1. A Member of the Singapore Parliament expressed concern about the National Heritage Board’s (NHB) website. The NHB included a “Google Translate” function on its website to provide visitors with the option to translate the website content into any one of the 72 languages currently offered by Google. However, after a Chinese reader of 联合早报 expressed concerns that the Chinese translation provided by Google Translate was erroneous, NHB acknowledged the mistake and promptly removed the Google Translate function from their website.
  2. The Singapore Tourism Board’s (STB) “Your Singapore” Chinese website has been in the process of “trans-creating”  over the past year, using the English version as a guide. The process is still on-going.

There had indeed been problems with translations on Singapore government websites that necessitate parliamentary discussions and debates on how the Government set the minimum standards for the use of our four official languages, English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil in the Ministries and Government agencies. The following questions were raised at the Parliament:

  1. How does the Government ensure that staff in the relevant departments are able to vet outsourced translated works?
  2. What are the plans of the Government to enhance the competence and capacity of its translation service.

In response to these questions, the Singapore Government recognizes that good translations and effective communications go hand in hand. They should be clear, concise and correct.

Actually, the Singapore Government Ministry has a Translation Department. It produces quality translated materials in all vernacular languages whenever required. The Translation Department translates key political speeches, annual Budget materials and other important government announcements. Some Government agencies even have their own bilingual officers who oversee their own websites and other channels of communications.

These translators went through stringent tests to assess their language capabilities before they are recruited. The test requires them to be able to do two-way translations, which is from Mother Tongue to English and English to Mother Tongue. They are assessed every year based on their performance, by way of vetting their translations. Bilingual officers at the various Government agencies, however, are not required to take the same translation tests. Instead, they undergo a language test to assess their language proficiency. Further, such bilingual officers have to retake the language tests once every two years to be re-certified, to ensure they maintain their proficiency. They are designated to vet the translations that their agencies outsource.

The Singapore Government has been working continuously to raise the competency and capabilities of its translators. Since July 2013, Singapore’s Ministry of Communication & Information has been working with other ministries and agencies to enhance the overall translation and vetting capabilities. According to the Government, more details will be announced in early 2014.

The Singapore Government expressed that building language and translation capabilities are not something we can do overnight. However, it will strive to ensure the three official vernacular languages — Chinese, Malay and Tamil — are used properly in translations. It will continue to improve its translation services for there is a continued need for the Government to reach out to all Singaporeans in all the four official languages.

At Sage Languages, we totally agree with the views of the Government on the importance of good translations. Indeed, good translations and effective communications go hand in hand. A good translation is clear, concise and correct.

We also applaud the Government’s commitment to improving its translation services. In fact, this is what we are committed to at Sage Languages; that is to meet and exceed customers’ requirements with timely delivery of quality translation, certification, editing and writing services at affordable prices through continual improvement in our processes, technology and competency. We also look forward to the announcement by the Government as regards its strategy to enhance the overall translation and vetting capabilities.

On Google Translate, we still think that it is a good language translation tool provided by Google. What more, it is free. If anybody wants to use Google Translate to do an auto translation, he or she should know that the translated content will not be as good or as fluid as a human-translated and vetted version. After all, Google Translate is a free translation service and it is provided with the hope to make information universally accessible and useful, regardless of the language in which it’s written.  One ought to understand how Google Translate works when it generates a translation. Google Translate actually looks for patterns in hundreds of millions of human-translated documents to help decide on the best translation for us. Since the translations are generated by machines, not all translation will be perfect.  But the more human-translated documents that Google Translate can analyse in a specific language, the better the translation quality will be. As such, you may find that some language translates better than others.

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Posted in Chinese, communication, effective communication, English language, Malay, Singapore, singapore government, Tamil, Translation, Translation quality, translation service, Translation skill, Website translation