Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Google switches to its own translation system - machine translation still questionable

I've been closely following the various attempts at getting automated machine translation to work for the past 10-15 years, and often found the outputs from those systems laughable at best. Be it BabelFish, or the various commercial systems, the bottom-line is always the same: automated systems cannot do even a half-decent job at translation, because they lack human comprehension - and we are still 20+ years away from any AI...

So I was very intrigued today to learn that Google has switched from Systran to its own translation engine.

As a simple test-case, I asked Google Translate to translate this XML Aficionado blog from English to German, and this is the live result: XML Aficionado in German. For those of you who understand German, this will be a delightful joke!

Bottom-line: machine translation still sucks...


Helio Perroni Filho said...

In fact, I have found Google Translate quite useful for doing the bulk of translation works (in my case, from Portuguese to English), leaving me with the much lighter tasks of reviewing and editing the resulting text.

And even on one occasion, it served me well enough in translating a text - a technical reference that seemed to be the only one of its kind - from German to English. The translation was by no means pretty, but it was intelligible enough that I could grasp its contents, and later use what I learned to solve a bug in a software I was developing.

So, imperfect as it is, machine translation already proves itself a useful tool.

A.Falk said...

In your Memory Leak blog you wrote "While machine translation is rarely flawless, I have found it suitable to hand the bulk of translation works" and I would certainly agree with that.

In this comment you mention using Google Translate for that purpose, but I think there are much better tools available for bulk translation: in particular, there are excellent translation support and translation memory tools, such as Trados (for documents) and Passolo (for software) that can make a professional translator's job a lot easier by handling the bulk of the work and freeing the translator up to think about the best wording for specialized cases.

In my post last October I was mostly referring to fully automated machine translation rather than translation support software, and I still find the text being produced from these packages to be very crude and mostly on the border between grammaticlly incorrect and just plain ludicrous.

However, you make a good point that if one doesn't know a language at all, and needs to access a technical reference, machine translation can produce a result that is meaningful enough to be useful.

translation software said...

It's all about accuracy. Indeed we are still 20 years away from great automatic translation tools.

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