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Free language translation tools (sorry, no Klingon)

January 1, 2005

in All Articles,Culture

About one third of Internet websites are written in English. Running down the popularity list, we also see sites written in Chinese, Japanese, Spanish and German.

You want to keep up on foreign news, but don’t know how to translate the Spanish La Nacion to English. You want to impress your new Russian coworker with notes in their own language. Using a dictionary is limited and time-consuming when translating one word at a time. What about a translation tool for phrases, sentences and paragraphs?

Save money. You don’t need to buy a dictionary or rent a (helpful but expensive) United Nations translator. Many free translation services are available, and they’re not difficult. In fact, they’re as easy as “ОДИН, ДВОЕ, ТРОЕ”.

There are many free translation services on the Internet.
The name “Babel fish” was coined by the late, great Douglas Adams in his “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” series. The Babel fish is a universal translator, and when inserted in your ear, allows you to understand any spoken language. The Babel fish website allows translation of many languages to and from English. Just copy and paste a block of text, or enter a website address. Presto: Instant translation.
Install the Google Toolbar. You’ll see two functions added to Internet Explorer: “Translate Page into English” and “WordTranslator”. You can use these tools to translate an entire non-English webpage into English, or point your cursor to any specific word and have it immediately translated into one of many languages.

Despite what science fiction movies would have you believe, translation tools are useful, but far from perfect. Before you write your Spanish class essay, be aware of translation software problems:

Context and meaning are sometimes needed to translate correctly. The phrases “cut it out” and “sweep me off my feet” can be translated multiple ways. Translation software, going to or from English, has a hard time with such expressions.

Some results are unnatural. An example is brought to you by Andy’s Inbox, where I just received an email from an Evil Spammer. Spammers use translation tools to spread spammyness all over the world. The email I got started with, “Today’s compliment and how is life general with you?” Like when I try public speaking, we have a sincere but embarrassing attempt at eloquence. The translation software should know a simple “howarya!” would work better. This problem will occur less when translating Latin-based languages. But Asian languages like Japanese, Chinese and Korean will be “difficult more slightly to realize”.

Language translation tools are for recognized world languages only. They’ll be no help at all translating abstract concepts, like why Rob Schneider movies continue to be made.

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