Thursday, August 05, 2010

The limits of #Google #Translate and other translator tools

One of my #Wikipedia friends is Bellayet. He has represented the Bengali Wikipedia at Wikimania several times, I have corresponded with him on several occasions; he is one of the good guys.

Bellayet blogs and uses the Wordpress software. I am happy to notice that its interface looks Bengali to me. I asked Bellayet if he could add something like Google translate to his blog and learned that he could not because Bangla is not (yet) supported.

There is a lot of talk about pushing translations using tools like Google translate. The reality is that Bangla, a language spoken by some 250,000,000 people is not supported to the extend that something can be pushed out. Something that is enough to help me understand what the subject is, maybe even understand somewhat what is being said.

Google also supports a translation tool that includes the use of translation memories and machine translation. It is vital to understand the tool, what it does and what is expected of you the translator.

This toolkit gives you the kind of tools that are also used by professional translators. It makes sense to appreciate what it is a translator does and does not do because once you do you have realistic expectations.

Typically a translator only translates into his or her mother tongue. They use tools to be as efficient as possible. Many translators translate the same kind of text really often, think travel documents, health documents etc. They have a fixed vocabulary and are in a standardised format. For such activities translation memories are a godsend.

Another group of documents, for instance Wikipedia articles, are hard on translation memories. The subject is singular and therefore there is often not that much to base a proposed translation on. This is where machine translation is of use. It has a dictionary component and it has a morphology component. Together with some grammar rules they provide the best they can.

When you as a translator provide a properly written literal translation, the translation can be used to enrich a translation memory. However, many translators have to provide a text that fits well with an audience, a different culture. In essence a text is substantially re-written to fit its target.

Another task often required of a translator is formatting. In a wiki environment, this would include wiki-links, templates and pictures. All of this is what is part of providing an end product that is acceptable to its public. When professional translators are hired to translate, it makes sense to hire Wikipedians to finish the translation by providing the formatting.
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