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Better translations with Google Translate





One way to get a good laugh is to translate a text using Google Translate. Lots of sentences will be hilariously nonsensical or may even mean the exact opposite. The tool can save the day anyway, but you wouldn't dare use it to translate a text towards a language that you don't know, say to send it to somebody.

There is yet a way to get usable translations, by verifying that the translation translates back correctly to a language that you know. You need to adapt the text, till the reverse translation is correct. This most often implies to write short and explicit sentences.

Say you would like to write a text in Arabic, to ask for the list of ingredients for a recipe published in the number four of a magazine.

In this first attempt, I wrote the demand in French:


Google Translate French to Arabic;
        wrong



I don't speak nor read Arabic. I've no clue whether the translation is valid. But I can open another tab in my browser, copy and paste the Arabic translation and get it to be translated in English:


Google Translate Arabic to English;
        wrong



The translation in English is not correct. This doesn't prove that the translation in Arabic is erroneous... but the chances are high.

I can rewrite the text in French:


Google Translate French to Arabic;
        acceptable



Till I get a correct text in English:


Google Translate Arabic to English;
        acceptable



There is no proof that the text in Arabic is now correct and respectful. But the chances are higher.

A friend who does read and speak Arabic, told me that a translation that I showed him is correct but sounds odd, because it uses scholar Arabic yet some sentences are childish. Anyway it was correct. In the example above, the last translation is still not correct but it is understandable. Some parts of it were better in the first attempt. The greeting is polite but it will sound odd to many Arabs.

To maximize your chances, use short and explicit sentences. But not too short ones, because the translation engine uses hints that it finds inside the sentences, to get a context to better choose the adequate translation for difficult words. Also, you can hoover the mouse on the translation and click on parts of it to get hints and suggestions. Learn to use the features proposed by the engine.

I could have started from English and then translate back to English. When you translate back to the same language, the chances are higher that an error in the translations translates back to a correct sentence and goes unnoticed.

Once a text has been created that translates amongst a few languages, it will better translate to any language. But never perfectly.

Google Translate should offer this possibility; to have three or more fields for automatic successive translations. This would also improve the ability of the translation engine to learn.



Eric Brasseur  -  October 19 2014
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