Trusting Online Translators

Posted: January 14, 2011 in Ramblings

Recently Diane was interested in turning some phrases into Russian, so she roped me in to do the administrative work.  My first stop for translations is always Yahoo, the home of the Babel Fish translator, and while it did translate the text, it of course translated it into the Cyrillic (Russian) alphabet.  Neither she nor I can read this.  Chris then directed me to Microsoft’s Bing Translator.   Wow, this looked easy – and it was – AND there is a button you can click to hear the translated word spoken!  This was perfect for Diane’s needs, so I sent her the link, expounded upon the Russian phrase a little bit, and went off to do my regular thing.

Yesterday the thought occurred that I really ought to have tested the Bing Translator before telling her to use it.  Several times (admittedly, years ago) Babel Fish had given me translations that were ridiculously wrong while being technically right.  I started off with the phrase “Dark Peacock” (one of my alter-ego nicknames) into Russian.  Yes, yes, we have already established that I don’t know Russian, but…at least it might do something.  It appeared to, and gave me a Cyrillic answer and a spoken translation.  So…how about “Dark Peacock” into German?  I’m fluent in German, remember…or at least I used to be.  Unfortunately Bing Translator turned it into “Dark Peacock” for the German!  Augh.  I put in a lot of little German phrases (little cats, little peacock, little one, dark cats) and the only phrase that turned out right was “little cats.”  All the other ones came out the same as the English starter phrase.  Even though the word “little” turned out right in “little cats,” it didn’t do so in any of the other phrases.  And even though “cats” turned out right in “little cats,” it didn’t do so with “dark cats.”  I noodled around with some French, too, having a smattering of that, and got a lot of irritating non-translations.

So, let the translator beware.  At least Babel Fish got all those little German phrases right.  It looks like the best way to do this sort of thing currently is to use a mix of the two websites.

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