Google and IBM Tackle Ambitious Translation Projects

You may not realise it, but the internet sites you see when you surf the web are limited by the language you are surfing in. So, there’s always a part of the internet that you are shut out of.

Possibly, according to this article on, not for long, both IBM and Google are currently working on ambitious translation projects. If successful, they will be able to create accurate, instantaneous translations of web content.

IBM’s project, called n.Fluent, automatically translates web pages. Users can enter in a URL to get the page translation, and site owners can install a translation web app onto their site that allows users to choose their language from a drop-down menu to have the page translated.

Of course, machine translations are still imperfect-a problem IBM is trying to rectify by crowd-sourcing the work, tapping its multilingual workforce to improve the translation software’s capabilities. The approach has helped IBM rapidly improve the quality of their translations, but David Lubensky, an IBM “real-time translation” specialist, told CNN that the company still faces challenges with this approach:

“There are two challenges. Firstly, getting a sustainable, enthusiastic community can be difficult. The goal is to have an ongoing interest, to make it part of the fabric.  The second issue is quality assurance of content; how useful is the feedback, how many mistakes do people make and how much impact will they have?”

Google’s project is similar, but naturally, the titans of search are also interested in translating search terms.  Google’s vice president Marissa Mayer explained the goal of her company’s translation tool to the Daily Telegraph:

“Imagine what it would be like if there was a tool built into the search engine which translated my search query into every language and then searched the entire world’s web sites.  And then invoked the translation software a second and third time — to not only then present the results in your native language, but then translated those sites in full when you clicked through.”

Although IBM’s project is aimed more at businesses and Google’s appears to be aimed more at consumers, both would go a long way toward opening up the entire internet to everyone. However, it’s unlikely that they will replace the services of an experienced translation company-if you are translating something important, you want a human being who understands the nuances of both languages to do it.

Now, Search Google in Cherokee

As part of its efforts to preserve endangered languages, Google just released a new search option: Cherokee.

The new search page allows people who speak Cherokee to search the Internet in Cherokee from any computer. You don’t need a special keyboard to type your query out, either – just click on the keyboard icon in the search box, and a virtual keyboard with the Cherokee syllabary on it will appear. Sweet!

In a press release,  Cherokee Nation Language Technologist Joseph Erb said:

“Translators from Cherokee Nation were eager to volunteer to help make this project a reality, including Cherokee speaking staff, community members and youth. We now have the power and knowledge of the Internet accessible in our own language. With these tools we are building for Cherokee tomorrow.” Read more

Google Logo

Google to Help Translate European Patents

Google just announced that they now have an agreement with the European patent office to translate patents. According to the International Business Times, Google will use their automatic translation software to translate patents into 29 EU languages.

This is important news because the EU has been trying to implement a standard patent system for all of its member nations but thus far, translation disputes have kept that from happening. The original proposal called for patent documents to be translated into English, French and German only. Naturally, this left Italy and Spain feeling somewhat neglected.

Since the patent process has not been standardized, according to the International Business Times it actually costs businesses about 10 times as  much to patent an idea in the EU  as it does in the US. Per European Patent Office president Benoit Battistelli, the agreement with Google will hopefully make the proposal more acceptable to the countries that have so far refused to accept it:

“The deal is a kind of compensation for those countries so they can accept the idea that for economic reasons it’s necessary to choose only a few languages and not to use all of them.”

Read more

Browser Translations

Language Immersion in your Browser?

Chrome users, you no longer have an excuse for browsing the web mindlessly. Thanks to Google, you could be learning how to say “I can haz cheezburger” in one of 64 languages!

Google calls its new Chrome extension “just a little experiment that may delight (or infuriate) the neurolinguists in the house,” and while it most certainly won’t replace actual language classes or language learning software, it’s a fun way to test your skills and perhaps pick up some new vocabulary.

Here’s how it works: once you install the extension, you can select a language and your fluency level. Then, as long as the extension is on, a certain percentage of the text on each page you visit will appear in that language. If you don’t know a word or phrase, you can generally puzzle out the meaning  using context clues. For pronunciation help, just roll your cursor across the text, and a robotic female voice will pronounce it for you.  If you’re really stuck on the meaning or you just want to double-check yourself,  a quick click of the mouse is all it takes to translate it back to English.

So, how well does it work? Obviously, a browser extension in and of itself is not going to get you anywhere near fluency. Google’s translations are imperfect, so take them with a grain of salt.  Lifehacker notes that “the translations might use the wrong gender or the more literal/formal versions of words and phrases.”

Additionally, you probably won’t want to have it on all time — as Time’s Techland blog noted,

“It can be a little disorienting to be reading in English and all of a sudden be interrupted by a Spanish phrase, which sometimes doesn’t entirely make sense in the context of the sentence.”

Still, it’s a fun way for language geeks to browse the web, and perhaps to hone your foreign language skills.

Google adds Hawaiian Language

Web giant Google have added a Hawaiian language version of its search engine.

It was done by Keola Donaghy of the Ka Haka Ula Oke’elikolani college of Hawaiian Language. Keola Donaghy campaigned for 3 years to get Google to produce a Hawaiian version of its search engine. He estimates that it took him 100 hours to complete the translation…. Perhaps he should have used a professional translation company.

The Hawaiian version provides instructions in Hawaiian on Google’s search engine, although you will still find that the results still come back in English.

In order to complete the translation Keola Donaghy provided translations of 2,500 strings, words, sentences and paragraphs used by the search engine.

It’s great to see Google expanding its language options and it’s important they don’t ignore other important languages (such as Welsh).

The Hawaiian version of Google’s search engine is now available on Apples safari browser; it can be accessed by selecting Olelo Hawaii or Hawaiian language inside the system preferences on Apple.

It should be available on all other browsers next week.

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

Multilingual SEO

Multilingual SEO

If you’re a native English speaker, then you may believe that the internet is dominated by the English language. Almost all of the computer code, social networking, e-commerce and news sites that are most popular with English speakers were developed in the English-speaking world, and they mesh seamlessly with the language. However, while slightly more than half the web’s content is still written in English, that won’t be true for long. Only around a quarter of internet users have English as their primary language and internet usage of this demographic is growing at a much faster rate.

Most people require or prefer web content that’s written in their native language. For international businesses to really engage with customers they need to have versions of their websites written in each of the languages their customers speak. In some parts of the world, even local businesses have to engage with more than one language group. Read more

Machine Translation Versus Human Translation: A Professional Weighs In

Which is better, machine-powered translation or human-powered translation? In this weekend’s New York Times, David Bellos, the director of the Program in Translation and Intercultural Communication at Princeton University, weighs in.

Bellos points out that  both machines and humans make mistakes in translation. While we like to joke about the fallacy of relying on a machine to translate all the different nuances of language, translators who are poorly trained or are working too hard make errors, too.

Machine Translation

Bellos notes that machine translation is well-suited to situations where there are not enough translators or interpreters available and translations don’t have to be perfect to be usable. For example, machine translation was extremely helpful for emergency personnel on the ground in Haiti.

However, machine translation relies on either a dictionary of words or their meanings combined with the rules of grammar that can be used to combine them or on comparing the text being translated to other, similar texts that have already been translated. Neither method is 100% accurate, especially when it comes to translating literature, creative writing and figures of speech.  Even Google Translate, which has access to all of the literature contained in Google’s considerable library of books, often comes up with gibberish when faced with literary translations.

Sure, computers don’t get tired, and they don’t base their performance on whether or not they are being paid a decent salary. But, as Bellos notes:

“Machine translation is not conceived or programmed to take into account the purpose, real-world context or style of any utterance. “

In situations in which an accurate translation is a must, a qualified human translator who is familiar with the nuances of both languages and cultures will beat a machine every time-even if the machine has all the power of Google behind it.

Google +1 on K International's blog

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The video below (from google) explains more about the +1 button.

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