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Translation Fails

Magazine Illustrates Language Expert’s Article With Bungled Translations

Adam Wooten, a translation expert with Globalization Group, was pleased when a local magazine published an article he wrote about the importance of obtaining accurate, professional translations for companies doing business overseas.

He became much less pleased, however, when he received a copy of the magazine and skimmed over the article. Someone at the magazine had decided to “enhance” the article by translating the title, “Lost Into Translation”, into several different languages. In the Deseret News, Wooten writes:

“I became concerned when I saw large, bright, red text splashed across both pages in six languages. Where did these multilingual phrases originate? I knew Globalization Group, the translation company where I work, had not provided any translations…something about them did not look right.” Read more

Google Translate

Can’t I just use Google Translate?

I was asked this question today.

It wasn’t the first time. If I’m honest, it annoyed me that I should have to answer it at all. But I guess if you don’t work in the language industry, you might perceive Google as a trustworthy company who can do no wrong, so you could be forgiven for thinking that their machine translation would be equally reliable. I’m answering it here on the language blog, to share with anyone who may be guilty of having the same thoughts.

It’s surprising (to me, at least) how many times I hear things like;

  • So basically you do the same as Google Translate?
  • Why should I pay you anything when I can get Google Translate to do it for free?
  • Do you use Google Translate for all your translation?
  • Do you just have one big computer who does all the translation?

(the answer is NO to all of the above) Read more

Google translates latin

Google Translate Now Translates Latin Ad Libitum

Last week, Google added another language to its popular Google Translate service, and Latin students everywhere breathed a sigh of relief. Yes, Google Translate now decodes Latin. The announcement came via a blog post written entirely in Latin by engineer Jakob Uszkoreit. Show-offs!

Google expects the Latin version of Google Translate to be quite popular with students who are studying the language, as well as for people studying philosophical and other texts originally written in Latin.

The fact that Latin is a dead language should make Google’s machine translation more accurate, as the company explained in its blog (Latin translation from the Telegraph):

“Unlike any of the other languages Google Translate supports, Latin offers a unique advantage: most of the text that will ever be written in Latin has already been written, and a comparatively large part of it has been translated in to other languages. We use these translations, found in books and on the web, to train our system.”

Read more

Google Translate: Now in Esperanto

Google Translate now comes in 64 flavors. The latest addition to the family is Esperanto. Google announced the news in a blog post last week.

Of course, the obvious question inspired by the announcement is, “Why Esperanto?” After all, it’s not the official language of any country, very few children grow up speaking it, and nobody speaks it exclusively.

If you’re unfamiliar with the language, here’s some background. Esperanto is a constructed language developed in the late 19th century by L.L Zamenhoff. It was designed to be easy to learn, combining and incorporating different aspects of various Indo-European languages.

According to Zamenhoff’s personal letters, the creation of Esperanto was a dream that he had nurtured since he was a child:

“The place where I was born and spent my childhood gave direction to all my future struggles. In Bialystok the inhabitants were divided into four distinct elements: Russians, Poles, Germans and Jews; each of these spoke their own language and looked on all the others as enemies. In such a town a sensitive nature feels more acutely than elsewhere the misery caused by language division and sees at every step that the diversity of languages is the first, or at least the most influential, basis for the separation of the human family into groups of enemies.”

The desire to unite people around the world across language barriers was what inspired him to create Esperanto, and is also what inspired Google to add Esperanto to its machine translation repertoire.

Interestingly, the same characteristics that make Esperanto easy for humans to learn also made it easy for Google Translate to pick up. The Google Translate team explained on their blog:

“As we know from many experiments, more training data (which in our case means more existing translations) tends to yield better translations. For Esperanto, the number of existing translations is comparatively small. German or Spanish, for example, have more than 100 times the data; other languages on which we focus our research efforts have similar amounts of data as Esperanto but don’t achieve comparable quality yet.”

Practically speaking, though, nobody is sure exactly how many people actually speak Esperanto. Per Wikipedia, estimates range from 10,000 to 2,000,000. The underlying idea behind Esperanto is commendable, but it’s still a relatively small linguistic niche.

If you’re trying to reach customers on a global basis, other languages would be probably be a better choice to focus on at first. And remember- a skilled human translator will get you much better results than Google Translate’s admittedly less-than-high quality translations!

Image Source: Attribution Some rights reserved by eliazar

11 Google Translate Facts You Should Know

Google Translate turned 10 years old last week. With the power of the Google empire behind it, it’s the world’s most popular machine translation tool. At K International, we can’t help but see how Google Translate has helped people communicate when professional translation is unavailable. However, we are also familiar with the consequences of relying on it too heavily. To celebrate our decade-long love/hate relationship with this service, here are 10 Google Translate facts you should know.

1. More than 500 million people use Google Translate.

According to the Google Translate blog, the service has more than 500 million users. That’s close to the entire population of the European Union, which has 508 million inhabitants. When Google released Google Translate in 2006, the number of users was measured in the hundreds.

2. Google Translate translates more than 100 billion words per day.

That’s roughly equivalent to a stack of 128,000 Bibles, every single day.

3.  Google Translate now supports 103 languages.

When it was launched 10 years ago, it only supported two: English and Arabic. Read more

Poetry is what gets lost in translation

Google Translate to Tackle Poetry

Robert Frost once said, “Poetry is what gets lost in translation.” However, according to NPR, that hasn’t stopped Google from attempting to translate poetry using their Google Translate machine translation service.

Google research scientist  Dmitriy Genzel told NPR that he considers effectively translating poetry to be the ultimate challenge, saying the attempt is “what we call AI complete. Which means it’s as difficult as anything we can attempt in artificial intelligence.”

What makes it so difficult? According to Carl Sandburg, “Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance.” How do you translate that? It’s a challenge even for knowledgeable human translators to create a translation that captures both the rhythm of a poem and the layers of meaning it contains. Read more

Travelling with Google Translate

Going travelling? Rich recently covered why you might be wary about using Google Translate for business materials, but what about personal travel?

Google Translate’s mobile apps promise to replace bulky phrasebooks and time spent memorizing key phrases with instant, real-time automatic translation. The question is, do they live up the hype? Looking at recent tests of the service, the answer is clearly “it depends.” Google may aspire to build Star Trek’s “Universal Translator,” but they’re not there yet.

 LA Times writer Sarah Hashim-Waris recently took the app on a test drive during a trip to Tokyo, where she was more often than not left struggling to communicate and dependent on the kindness of bilingual strangers. She describes one particularly egregious example here:

“’You are using me kimono I think Nishika. Kimono Nishihata large four.’ Say what? These were the responses from a shopkeeper in the Asakusa district, who spoke only Japanese, when I asked him about the items he sold in his traditional kimono store. Or at least that’s what Google Translate told me he said. What the patient shopkeeper was trying to say was that he designed the pieces he sold in the store – something I wouldn’t have been able to pick up from what Google Translate relayed to me, if some English speaker hadn’t kindly stepped in.”

The quality of translation depends on the languages you’re translating between, as this comparison from The New York Times shows. And to be fair, The Frugal Traveler used the Google Translate app on an off-the-beaten path assignment in China and found it quite adequate, with a little bit of prep work to save frequently translated phrases. Still, even the Frugal Traveler recommended carrying a phrasebook for backup.

Have you used Google Translate’s app while traveling? How did it work for you?

The history of Machine Translation

Machine Translation – A Potted History

The concept of machine translation has existed for centuries, but it was not until the early 1950s that it began to become a reality. Since then, machine translation has advanced hugely, though it still cannot yet compete with the skill and finesse that a human mind can apply to translating a document.

The birth of machine translation

In 1949, Warren Weaver of the Rockefeller Foundation put together a set of proposals on how to turn the idea of machine translation into reality. He blended information theory, code breaking lessons learned during the Second World War and the principles of natural language to pave the way for machines to translate one language to another.

One of the earliest machine translation successes was the Georgetown-IBM experiment. In 1954, IBM demonstrated at its New York office a machine that could translate Russian sentences into English. Though the machine could only translate 250 words (into 49 sentences), the world was delighted by the idea. Interest in machine translation around the world saw money being poured into this new field of computer science. The Georgetown experiment researchers, bursting with the confidence of their initial success, predicted that machine translation would be mastered within three to five years. Read more

Mounties and Google Translate

British Colombian Mounties Remove Google Translate From Website

The debate over machine-produced versus human translation took the British Colombian division of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police by surprise, according to an article in the Vancouver Sun. The BC Mounties were providing French translations of their press releases via Google Translate. However, after a recent, highly critical report from Radio-Canada sparked controversy, they will no longer offer Google Translate to translate press releases from French to English.

Here’s the unfortunate thing-since the British Colombian division of the RCMP does not have enough translators on staff, disabling the Google Translate option isn’t going to improve service to their French-speaking users. In fact, it will have quite the opposite effect, at least until a new translator is hired. The Google-provided translations were no doubt imperfect and clunky. They almost always are. However, they were generated instantly. Readers also had the option to request a human-translated version to be emailed to them, although that could take up to a month.

Technically, that doesn’t meet the requirements of the  Official Languages Act, which requires Canadian government agencies to communicate with citizens in both French and English. RCMP spokesman Insp. Tim Shields acknowledged as much in the Vancouver Sun. However, the practice at least allowed French speakers to get the gist of a press release without delays.

Now, as the RCMP tries to find another translator, the website will only offer French-speaking visitors the option to request a translation via email. Visitors who speak other languages will still be able to use Google Translate, as will French-speaking visitors with enough web savvy to cut and paste the release into Google Translate themselves.

At this time, human translation is more accurate than machine translation, and Francophone Canadians have a right to translations that are  both correct and provided in a timely manner. Until the RCMP gets another French translator, though, it seems a little silly to remove the Google Translate option.

Kindle translator

Amazon’s Kindle: Your Newest Universal Translator

Purists may prefer the look and feel of a real book, but the Kindle is a great device for reading on the go. Now, courtesy of a new Kindle app called Kindlefish, it has another use: a universal translator.

The app makes it possible to use Google Translate on your Kindle with minimal hassle. Because the device has limited web capabilities, the regular version of Google Translate doesn’t work on it.  Meanwhile, the mobile version presents you with your translated text in such a tiny font that it’s hard to read.  As Goldilocks would say, Kindlefish’s screen is “just right”- a simple, trimmed down version of Google Translate that works on the Kindle and presents your translation in big, clear, easy to read letters. Read more