Online Translation: Good and Bad Sometimes

May 2, 2011

Google Translate Has Great Uses, Disastrous Misuses,” asserts Deseret News. We agree.

As writer Adam Wooten states, machine translation sites like Google Translate are wonderful for getting the gist of text in a language you don’t happen to be fluent in. In fact, there are several others that also address this need, including: GeoFluent from Lionbridge; IMTranslator; and WorldLingo.

In TMCnet’s article, “Lionbridge launches GeoFluent Real-Time Translation Platform,” writer Jai C.S. describes the new offering. This paid platform boasts “a statistical machine translation engine developed in IBM’s Watson Research Center,” and includes a multilingual chat feature. It also runs on multiple devices and promises secure exchanges. Check it out here.

ImTranslator describes their product in their own blog. This option includes components like a virtual keyboard, spell-check, a multilingual dictionary, and email and print functions. I like the idea of the “convert text into voice in 10 languages” feature. The translation itself, however, relies on Google Translate.

WorldLingo lures us in with a free translator, similar to Google’s, but it offers several pay options a la carte. These include machine translations for entire Web sites, emails, documents, and chat. Also, and this is important, the company offers the services of professional human translators.

Which brings us back to Deseret’s article. When it comes to weighty matters such as legal documents, financial information, and marketing copy, you’d better call in the humans. Check out this partial list of machine translation mistakes Wooten cites:

“A Chinese restaurant sign displayed the words ‘Translate Server Error’ above its storefront after a free translation site failed. A newspaper mistranslation repeatedly misquoted a former president of Kazakhstan as referring to the important issue of ‘passing gas.’ Israeli journalists nearly sparked an international incident when they seemed to insult a Dutch diplomat’s mother in a machine-translated message. Finally, an automatically translated furniture tag contained a racist slur that seriously offended customers in Toronto, Canada.”

For personal reading or for informal communications where all parties are aware of the limits of machine translation, these tools fit the bill– free or inexpensive, quick, and easy. The additional tools from the paid sites could come in very handy; the chat feature sticks out as one that may quickly become indispensable.

However, there’s no substitute for knowledgeable professional humans when it comes to the important stuff. It’s worth the investment of time and money– unless you don’t mind publishing something akin to the Chinese menu that offered “Stir-fried wikipedia.” Mmm, sounds tasty!

Cynthia Murrell, May 2, 2011



2 Responses to “Online Translation: Good and Bad Sometimes”

  1. The Future of Patent Translations: Human or Machine? « The Intellogist Blog on May 3rd, 2011 11:03 am

    […] of the consequences of glitchy machine translations (quote originally found at a very informative blog post from Beyond Search): A newspaper mistranslation repeatedly misquoted a former president of […]

  2. Marco on September 23rd, 2011 3:54 am

    I like more , because you have both machine and human translation services available.

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