Google Translates Documents and Email Too

Google Translates Docs

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Google Translate does documents too…

Over the weekend Google added a new service to Google Translate: upload a document.

What you do is select ‘upload a document’, then browse for a file to translate. Right quick your translation pops up in a browser window, but minus your original formatting.

Google Translate can also be used with Gmail and Google Talk.

For Gmail: Simply enable “Message Translation” from the Labs tab under Settings, and when you receive an email in a language other than your own, Gmail will help you translate it into a language you can understand. In one click.

For Google Talk: Apparently you can get Google Translate for Google Talk but I was unable to get it to work. Can you?

And here’s more: 3 Tips for Quick and Free Translation Between Languages.


Google Translate users beware…

In sillier days I would converse in French with a friend who was using BabelFish . My French wasn’t too hot so there were times when I had to depend on Babel Fish too. I say sillier days as the results were absolutely hilarious!

And while we were using BabelFish for lighthearted fun, those who need to be clear in their foreign language communications should be aware of the real dangers when using online translators. Especially when it comes to a language such as Thai.

This article on Automatic Thai machine translations online outlines the difficulties (paraphrasing):

  • Vocabulary, style and structure between the two languages are different.
  • Words with the same spelling have multiple meanings.
  • Thai words do not have Latin or Germanic roots.
  • The meaning of a Thai word must be chosen in the context of the sentence.
  • Western software algorithms cannot handle Thai word breaks.
  • Thai does not have articles or tenses, and uses polite particles.

Google Translate evaluation…

As my very good friend Amy Praphantanathorn is married to a Thai translator, I took the opportunity to get Golf’s opinion of Google Translate.

The machine translator from Google definitely cannot be a substitute for a real human translator. The software might know all the terms and vocabularies, but it takes more than just translating word by word.

A human translator knows what subject and/or content he/she is translating, thus uses the right words/tones/moods for that content.

I tested Google Translate Services and this is what I found out:

1. I typed a simple English sentence like this “Please complete the following information and return it to your child’s school”, and hit a “Translate” button.

This is what I got: “กรุณากรอกข้อมูลต่อไปนี้และกลับไปที่โรงเรียนของบุตรของท่าน”, which is translated back to English as “Please fill out the following information and go back to your child’s school”.

Another example is “Automatic labeling is of interest to the produce industry”, was translated as “ป้ายกำกับโดยอัตโนมัติเป็นดอกเบี้ยที่ผลิตอุตสาหกรรม.” (automatically label is the interest which produces the industry.) Plus Google adds a “period” at the end of the Thai sentence.

2. As for Thai to English translation, Google Translate does not do a good job at all. “ผู้จำหน่ายจะต้องไม่ “สอน” ให้พนักงานให้คำตอบที่เหมาะ สมแก่คำถามจากผู้ตรวจสอบ”, and the English text is “Vendor shall not “coach” employees on appropriate responses to questions asked by auditors”.

Google translated it as “Vendors must be “taught” to the appropriate staff to answer questions from the auditors.” Totally wrong!

In the comments of my post Enters the Thai Conversation, Pete from FrogBlog left some advice for English-French auto translations that just might work for casual Thai conversations too:

One tip if you ever want to get any English translated into another language by automated software – use very short and simple sentences, where no ambiguity is possible.

I’ve experimented with this from English to French, using different variations of a few sentences to express the same meaning.

Some (the short, simple versions) were translated almost perfectly. But longer, convoluted versions mostly ended up as complete gibberish in French.

Thank you Pete. And thank you Golf and Amy.

13 thoughts on “Google Translates Documents and Email Too”

  1. Jeff, that makes sense. And just like Wiki (which is good for on-the-fly information), if we want a version that we are absolutely sure of, we go to a professional source.

    It will be interesting to check back in just a years time to see if anything has changed. So I guess what I should do is run a series of translations through them now, then again a year from now.

  2. Catherine, you asked what happens if someone suggests a poor or mischievous translation. I don’t know how they handle it, there is no mention of the process online.

    It might be set up to work the way that Wikipedia works. While there are cases of accidental or deliberate errors, the sheer volume of people adding useful stuff to Wikipedia makes it immensely useful. Wikipedia is also inherently self correcting, because if someone writes rubbish, it will be corrected by others.

    In the same way, having millions of users making minor improvements to the translation system does something that any single company could never do with internal resources only. It might be chaotic, but the sheer scale is unbeatable.

    Time will tell, but the approach they’ve taken is potentially a very effective one.

  3. And I’m looking forward to seeing what you come up with! I’ve had a go this week on tweaking the design here on WLT. It’s not done yet (the banner is too tall) but it’s getting there. Problem is, I hate CSS… Poor Jay…

  4. Ben, I guess it all depends on what you need them for. From what everyone is saying… if the documents are official, then don’t even mess with Google Translate. Go straight to a professional Thai translator.

    I imagine it is a lot like designing websites. If a client without any experience coding websites came to me with something they had created, depending, it would take me longer to fix it than start from scratch. Longer = more money.

  5. I have a tonne of docs to translate so I may well use this, altho I guess you would recommend having a Thai having a good look at them afterwards…

  6. Andy – I agree, Babelfish never did seem to grow and improve.

    ‘wouldn’t be surprised to see Thai websites getting English sections with text directly copied from Google Translate.’

    I read something about that just today – but the webmasters were more concerned with bad SEO over bad translations.

    ‘We literally rolled on the floor when we our boss brought us that one from a trade show.’

    That’s about all I get out of the online translators – hilarity with a bit of understanding thrown in. Thai-English has got to be the worse ever but I do believe if you keep to the smaller sentences, you will get more out of the process. Of course, I need to put it to the test, right?

    John – Except for when I’m forced to use a PC emulator, I don’t use Windows. Like you, it’s a frustration thing. Some people’s brains are wired for Windows, mine are not. I’m more of a PHD type of person: push here dummy.

    Jeff – Allowing us to correct mistranslations… But who is responsible for correcting those sending in their fixes to the mistranslations? I find crazy stuff for Thai-English all the time so there is that.

    I also dream of a future where you can select your language of choice on your phone, talk into the phone, then it talks for you.

    And after reviewing all those Thai phrase books to find out just how difficult it would be to create the ultimate phrase book, voice to voice seems the only way.

    Even if you do get a wee love tap in the process…

  7. One of the things about Google Translate that makes it different to the others is that it allows users to correct mistranslations. When you look at translated text, if you point the mouse at a sentence, a window pops up that shows the original text and offers you the ability to translate it better. This feeds into the translation engine for similar phrases in the future. So the more it is used and corrected, the better it gets. This is a brilliant way of leveraging the language skills of vast numbers of users.

    All I have to do now is be good enough at multiple languages to help the process 🙂

    What will come in the next couple of years are apps on smart phones that use speech-to-text to listen to a phrase, send it to Google Translate, then use text-to-speech to speak the translation. Every traveller’s dream! Of course, there will also be hilarious mistranslations that could get you a slap in the face…

  8. goggle have got me interested in there rival to windows i use windows but hate it microsoft have had it good for far to long
    when my pc freezes sometrimes i fly into a pc rage is this the same as road rage not sure but well done google keep it coming

  9. Even ten years after Babelfish was first online the quality of these free online translators hasn’t improved much. Even today they can only be used to get an idea of what the text is about, but nothing more. And even today there are still so many using these tools blindly, believing the output is anything reasonable in the target language. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Thai websites getting English sections with text directly copied from Google Translate.

    The most hilarious use of Babelfish I have ever come across was a commercial leaflet introducing a code library for graphics – written in German auto-translated from English. Terms like “daisy-chaining” became “Gänseblümchen-ankettender”, “32 bit” became “32 Stückchen” the brand name “Future Domain” was translated and so on. We literally rolled on the floor when we our boss brought us that one from a trade show.


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