Google Translate Brings Speak-to-Translate and Offline Phrase Storage to Mobile Phones

Lifehacker: ” The iPhone has had a mobile-formatted Google Translate webapp for awhile, but as of today they have a new native app with even more features, including speak-to-translate, offline storage, and the ability to hear your translations pronounced out loud.

The app’s basic functionality works just like Google Translate does online: you can type in any phrase and get it translated into more than 50 languages. For half of those languages, Google Translate can even speak the translation back to you, so you get the pronunciation down pat. You can also save your favorite phrases for later viewing offline.

Probably the coolest part of the app, though, is the speech recognition. By hitting the microphone button on the app’s front page, you can input phrases from 15 languages and get them translated, which is great if you don’t quite know the spelling of that phrase you heard. Hit the link to check it out.

Google Translate is a free download for iOS 3 or later, and in all iOS-supported languages.

Twinslator tweaks Tweets on Twitter while you tweet in foreign languages

In case you ever feel like joining a Twitter conversation in a language you don’t know for some obscure reason, Twinslator might help. It creates a rough translation which you can post on Twitter right away. No extra copy and paste, just short and simple.
This might even be useful in emergency situations for some people or you can also just use it as a fast translator when you go out grocery shopping in a foreign country. At least it’s good to know sites like that exist in case you need them.

And, no, I still hate having to write “tweeting”… Yes, awful headline, but good for SEO.

From “8 Fun Twitter Tools for Language Lovers” over at Mashable

Use your Brain: Experiments with Google Translate

A while ago over dinner with a friend I got to talking about the fine art of translation and its future. My dinner companion(a non-translating German native speaker who did his undergraduate degree in England) commented on the future of machine translation and mentioned Google Translate. I reiterated my standard position – that Google Translate is fine if you want a really rough idea of what is being said in a language that you do not at all understand, but is no substitute for a human translator. ‘But I use it all the time’ he said. ‘I just put my text through Google Translate and fix the mistakes afterwards’. I explained that the Google Translate approach would not work for me at all. It would not make me faster –  I have to structurally reformulate most sentences I translate anyway, so each translated sentence is typed afresh with or without Google translate. In fact, if anything it would make me slower – using a machine translation from German as a basis might lead one to construct more German sounding sentences, which would have to be corrected in the proofreading stage anyway. All you really need to translate well is something to write with and your brain! Right?

Hmm, maybe not. Just a few days after my conversation, Spiegel Online published a fawning article about Google Translate. ‘The best translation program yet’, it cried. ‘The age of machine translation has begun’. Funny that Spiegel should publish this, I thought, don’t they use human translators to translate articles into English? So what if Spiegel used Google Translate? An experiment was born.

The Test

I found an article that Spiegel published the following week in both German and English. The German original version ‘Schuldenstatt: Griechenlands große Depression’ is here. The English version ‘The Great Depression: Greeks struggle with Sick-Man Status’ is here. I just put the original German version through Google translate and had a look at what came out the other side. I obviously translated the whole article, but for brevity sake I’ve selected just the opening paragraph to post here. The quality of the translation you see here was average for the text – not the best, not the worst. So, drum roll please, here are the results……

Original: “Sie räumen ihre Konten leer, verzichten auf Urlaub, fahren Bus statt Auto und sorgen sich um ihre Jobs: Die Griechen ächzen unter der schweren Krise ihres Landes. Auch ihr Selbstwertgefühl leidet – vor allem von Deutschland fühlen sie sich gedemütigt.”

Human: “They’ve emptied their bank accounts, abandoned vacations and started taking the bus. Now, they fear for their jobs: The Greeks bemoan the difficult crisis that has taken over their country. Above all, they feel humiliated by Germany.”

Google Translate: “You agree that empty their accounts, not to leave, take bus instead of car and worry about their jobs: The Greeks groan under the severe crisis in their country. Her self-esteem suffers – especially Germany, they feel humiliated.”

Ok, so the results are not great. But would a native English speaker editor who did not speak German or have access to the German original be able to fix this text? I sent it on to a Heidi Henrickson, academic editor, ESL teacher and Translabor network member. Here is what she came up with:

“If faced with the sentence you provided below, I would only hazard a guess at its author’s intent, based on what I’m hearing in the news:
“Greece is suffering from the severe economic crisis: many Greeks are being forced to empty their bank accounts, replace their modernity and independence for a more austere way of life, and they are faced with the threat of high unemployment. Europe’s (especially Germany’s) self-esteem suffers, and its people feel humiliated.””

There we have it. A human translator could do the job better and faster without Google Translate and the Google translation is too poor to be fixed by an experienced professional editor. Just about the only people who might be happy with the Google Translation are non-native speakers like my dinner companion, who could probably take the above and turn it into something in ‘Denglish’*. But why would anyone pay for a bad translation? Surely one may as well go the whole hog, pay a few extra Euros and hire the native speaking human.

For what its worth, Heidi is with me on this one. Once again I’ll let her speak for herself.

“I would never, ever use computer translation software for my business. Not even to do a ‘rough draft’ version. I want a translator to work with the original text because it contains the content, the style of speech or writing, and often the ideological views of the writer. A great deal of this would be lost in a computer-generated translation, in my opinion.

Further, when I worked for an academic publisher in the United States, we received a batch of journal article summaries generated by a sophisticated, expensive computer program created for that sole purpose. The program was used extensively by our parent company. Overwhelmingly, the abstracts the program produced were incoherent, and often the facts presented in the original article were distorted or changed. Over 90% of these summaries were un-usable. It is for this reason, as well as the reasons I mentioned above, that I would never replace the nuanced mind of a professionally trained human with a computer program.”

Use your brains, people. It’s the only way to translate.

*German English

Translate the real world with Google Goggles

Traveling to another country can be an amazing experience. The opportunity to immerse yourself in a different culture can give you a new perspective. However, it can be hard to fully enjoy the experience if you do not understand the local language. For example, ordering food from a menu you can not read can be an adventure. Today we are introducing a new feature of Google Goggles that will prove useful to travelers and monoglots everywhere: Goggles translation.

Here’s how it works:
Point your phone at a word or phrase. Use the region of interest button to draw a box around specific words. Press the shutter button.

If Goggles recognizes the text, it will give you the option to translate
Press the translate button to select the source and destination languages.

The Google Mobile Blog has more.

Google Translate takes on the Cupcake challenge

Came across this lovely example of google translate’s fine work via and today. found some nice New York themed promotional material for the new line of cupcakes McDonald’s Germany is currently offering and simply stuck the text through google translate. Hilarity ensued. This is one of the more cogent examples:

German Original:

Central Park

Geheimtipp und Central Park? Ganz New York hängt hier rum. Mein Tipp: Holt euch einfach einen Erdbeer Cup-Cake, setzt euch auf irgendeine Bank und genießt eurem ganz persönlichen Central Park Moment.

Google Translate version via

“Tip and central park? Throughout New York hangs out here. My tip: Just get yourself a cup strawberry-cake, sit down at any bank and enjoy your very personal Central Park Moment.”

Google Translate version as of this afternoon

Kept secret and Central Park? Throughout New York hangs out here. My tip: Get a simple Holt Strawberry Cup Cake, sit on any bench and enjoy your very own Central Park moment.

Translabor says:

The original google translate version sounded odd and mistranslated some important terms. For example ‘Ganz New York’ should clearly be ‘All New York’ or ‘Everyone in New York’, an Erdbeer Cup-Cake is clearly a strawberry cupcake not a cup strawberry-cake, and while the word bank may appear to make sense here(the bank of a lake or river for example) this is not the intended meaning – the ‘Bank’ that you sit on in German is a bench in English, the ‘Bank’ where you keep your money is indeed bank in English, but the English ‘bank’ of the river is a German ‘Ufer’. So far, so muddled.

The newer google translation seems to have corrected a few mistakes, but created a few ones in the process. This time they have got the translation of ‘Bank’ right, but for some reason the program no longer recognises ‘Holt’ as the German imperative form of ‘holen'(get), instead mistaking it for a proper noun and including it in the English version. The translation of ‘geheimtipp’ is also tweaked here  – to ‘kept secret’ – not much better than ‘tip’ in the original. A much better solution overall would be something non-literal like ‘Want a New York insider tip? Try Central Park’ or ‘Hang like the New Yorkers – In Central Park’. But given that google translate is still struggling with simple literal translations like ‘Bank’ this is not something I would expect.

So, while google translate is improving all the time, and is not bad if you want a very broad idea of what is being said in a language you do not at all understand – I would not expect it to replace human translations any time soon. Most of the sentences I translate are considerably more complex and nuanced than those listed above, and non-literal translation is very often required if you want a text to ‘sing’ rather than plod along. I could be wrong here, but barring the creation of translation programs backed by the kind of artificial intelligence that would allow the machine to genuinely think like a human, those of us who write and interpret for a living are safe.

Google Goggles Prototype

“An experimental demo of Google Goggles that incorporates translation and optical character recognition.”

Ok, this might work for ordering food and simple things like that, but I don’t see how this can replace a translator for real. Any thoughts on this?

Mobilate was working on a similar idea, but Google was there first.