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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

The Milk Port Translation Fiasco

Faking an interview is always a poor journalistic practice, to say the least — but if you’re going to make up quotes, don’t rely on Google Translate. A Turkish newspaper learned that lesson the hard way this week after it fabricated a huge chunk of an interview with American scholar Noam Chomsky.

The interview, published in English in Yeni Safak, contained the following quotes, apparently translated into English using Google Translate.

“This complexity in the Middle East, do you think the Western states flapping because of this chaos? Contrary to what happens when everything that milk port, enters the work order, then begins to bustle in the West. I’ve seen the plans works.”

What? Either you love Chomsky or you hate him, but either way you have to admit he’s more eloquent than that. Read more

Language service company warning signs

Selecting the Right Language Service Company

Vic MarcusToday we have a special guest post from Vic Marcus, Vice President of Business Development at NWI Global, a language translation & interpreting company based in Vancouver, Washington, USA.

You recently learned that the content you produced in English will now need to be translated into 16 languages, including Spanish, Arabic and Simplified Chinese. You also know that your organization requires you to go out for a bid to find the best possible supplier that will meet your quality, cost and turnaround time requirements.

Your supplier database of language service companies is fairly thin and you believe more companies need to participate in the bidding process, so you go on the web to search for more potential suppliers. This is a great way to bolster your competitive bid process, but what if you could eliminate certain suppliers before they can even submit a bid? This will save you a lot of time and ensure you choose the language service company best suited for your project.

Here are the five reasons not to work with a language service company that came up in your Google search results. Eliminate these companies prior to starting your formal bidding process.

  1. Outdated Content – Blast From The Past
    You clicked on a link and it took you back in time. The company’s website was last updated years ago. In today’s market, it’s about customer engagement using various online and social media tools. One of the primary marketing tools a company has is its website. Having an outdated website is a red flag. If the company doesn’t care about its own online content and appearance, why should you trust them to deliver quality content translated into other languages?
  2.  No Contact Information – Don’t Contact Us, We May Contact You
    You found what seems like a legitimate company and you are interested in having it participate in your bidding process. You’d now like to communicate the bid information to this company. You look everywhere on the navigation menu and can’t find a clear way to contact them. Sure, it could be a poorly designed navigation structure, but it could also be that this company doesn’t want you to contact them by making it really difficult to do so.At a minimum, every company must have a contact page and the contact page should contain the following elements:
    • Company’s Name and Physical Address
    • Contact Form or an E-mail Address
    • Links to the Company’s Social Media Channels
    • Telephone NumberIf there is no physical address listed, does this company really have an office they operate out of? This is something to think about in your search efforts.
  1. Spelling and Grammatical Errors – Your Smart, My Smart, We all Smart
    The company didn’t take the time and effort to proofread and edit the content on their website. If that’s an indication of how they approach their translation projects, I’d head for the hills now. 
  1. We do Everything – Jack of All Trades
    This company claims to do it all and do it well. All professional fields have their areas of expertise. You wouldn’t go to a psychiatrist for brain surgery (a physical one, anyway). And it’s very unlikely that a psychiatrist is a brain surgeon, and vice versa. It’s also unlikely that a company can do patent translations and community interpreting. There are language service companies that do a lot of things well, but they are few and far between. Finding a speciality shop that can scale with your needs is your best bet. 
  1. We do it Fast & Cheap – Race to Zero
    Since you will be going out for a competitive bid, pricing is most certainly a factor in your decision. Keep in mind that not all language service companies deliver the same level of service. If quality is important to you, be prepared to invest in it. There will always be a company out there that can do it for less, but at what cost?

There are many good language service companies out there and a few not so good ones. Keep the above five reasons in mind when putting together your list of bid stakeholders. It will save you a lot of time and make the competition a lot more interesting. Good luck in your search!

Vic Marcus is the Vice President of Business Development at NWI Global, a language services company specializing in B2B and B2G content translation & interpreting. Vic has over 10 years of experience in the language services industry, and is continuously involved in educating all stakeholders about the translation & interpretation process.

Translation Fail

Google Translate’s Egyptian #Fail

Hosni Mubarak: Egypt’s once and future president? Not in this universe, but Google Translate sure seemed to think so as Egyptians made their way to the polls two weeks ago. According to Voice of America, the sentence ““I will respect Egypt’s future president” turned into “I will respect President Hosni Mubarak” in Arabic once Google’s automated translation algorithm had its way with it.

Whoops! What happened? Google spokesman Jason Freidenfelds’ explained that the problem stemmed from the length of Mubarak’s tenure as president, which lasted from 1981 to 2011. Google Translate “learns” by matching translated material from one language to another, and seeing how different words and phrases correlate with each other. Since Mubarak had been president so long, every time the Google Translate’s algorithm saw the words “Egypt’s president,” Mubarak’s name was referenced.

Freidenfelds’ comments should reassure any conspiracy theorists who might have thought that Google somehow supported the dictator. Unfortunately, they also point to the limitations of using Google Translate (or any machine translation program, really) to translate important communications. This is especially true for languages like Arabic, which don’t have as much material available for the algorithm to work with and have significant structural differences from English.

As Freidenfelds explained to the VOA:

“For English and Spanish, there are tons of translations out there, and there have been for years. So you’ll get a high quality translation with the right phrases and words…In French or Spanish, you might flip the adjectives and nouns. That’s not that hard for machine translation to pick up on. But if the change pushes a word all the way to the end of the sentence, that’s a lot harder for the system to pick up.”

Google’s since fixed this particular translation glitch, but the overall issues with machine translation remain. Can you imagine how embarrassing it would be to have an error of this magnitude in your business communications? An experienced, reliable translation service is a much safer bet!