This article was originally posted on WomenLearnThai.com.
Google Translate takes Babel Fish one step further…
In a previous post – Google Translates Documents and Email Too – we got into a discussion about the possible crowdsourcing aspects built into Google Translate.
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.
From Jeff Gray:
If you are looking for a good resource to learn Thai online, check out Learn Thai from a White Guy. Upon entering your email, you'll get five free lessons to help you start learning to read Thai.
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.
To which I replied:
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.
Jeff Gray came back with:
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.
Today is Friday, the 17th of July, 2009.
To check out this theory, I’ll gather a collection of Thai sentences ranging from dead simple to difficult, then run them through Google Translate. I’ll do the same with their English counterparts.
On or around the 17th of July, 2010, I will go back to Google Translate to see if anything has changed for the better.
See you then…