How good is your English vocabulary, really?

Ghent University in Belgium has created an online, almost arcade-game-like test of word knowledge.

How many English words do you know? With this test you get a valid estimate of your English vocabulary size within 4 minutes and you help scientific research.

In this test you get 100 letter sequences, some of which are existing English words (American spelling) and some of which are made-up nonwords. Indicate for each letter sequence whether it is a word you know or not by pressing the F or J key.


Google Translate Turns Obama Into Bush

“Google wonks beavering away at translating snippets of French into the English language might wish to take note of the following fact – their system thinks “le président américain” is “Bush”.

That’s George W Bush, we suppose.

The Register reports that “Reg reader Robert spotted the amusing cockup when he tried to translate an article from daily French newspaper Le Monde.

Our man popped the following sentence into Google translate and waited for the Googbots to work their magic.

Only to get this surprising translation:

As we all know, old W was cut loose from the White House in January 2009 after two terms, and was soon replaced by one Barack Obama – a man currently seeking another four years in the Oval Office – after Republican candidate John McCain lost the November 2008 race.

But Google Translate DOESN’T KNOW.

Word Lens – Augmented Reality Translation

Quest Visual: “Word Lens can instantly translate printed words from one language to another using the video camera on your iPhone. No network delay, no roaming fees, and no reception problems.

Word Lens is a dictionary — evolved. It looks up words for you, and shows them in context. You can use Word Lens on your vacations to translate restaurant menus, street signs, and other things that have clearly printed words.

Word Lens has its limits. Sometimes the translation will have mistakes, and may be hard to understand, but it usually gets the point across. If a translation fails, there is a way to manually look up words by typing them in. Word Lens does not read very stylized fonts, handwriting, or cursive.

Now available for iPhone 4, iPhone 3gs, and iPod Touch 4.
Languages currently available using in-app purchase:
– Spanish to English
– English to Spanish

More at

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