Oh for a Smart Translator

Posted on Thursday 4 September 2008

I admit I’m not the best when it comes to speaking or understanding French but I’m getting by these days ( see my previous article on “The French Connection”. )

Suffice to say, I have extended family who have the exact opposite challenge that I have. Their English is very weak and are loathe to speak, and/or have great difficulty reading and writing English. As a matter of fact, I was helping someone like that just last weekend.

They have a new computer and I was helping them with installing, understanding and using Virus Scanning software, Photograph manipulation and other odd’s and sods. Of course most of the sites that I visited and showed to them were in English. So I decided to research what was available out there (preferably free ) which could help them with translating and understanding the great wealth of material out on the web.

I found several, and Altavista certainly promised to be the best as it dynamically translated websites within Internet Explorer and I tried several others that needed you to cut and paste. They all did a “fair” job with the basics… verbs translated properly and in general the subjects seemed to convert properly. Unfortunately I found that if a colloqiualism was used it ended, usually, in disaster…

I was using my own blog for translation testing and had someone who was very bilingual to read the English version first, then the French translation… It took her about ten minutes to stop laughing (after reading the French version – thankfully. )

Everything that I tried had the same problem. If it didn’t understand the word it left it alone. Which is okay, except I was surprised to find some very simple words left unchanged – like “send”. But what really made the situation impossible (and made in my opinion the utilities unusable ) were the translations made of colloquialisms into word for word translations – with no reference to the context or relationships of the associated words. Plus peoples names were stomped terribly into French with no heed to the fact that it was a name ( that being said they at least capitalized them! )

I was really surprised that after all these years that translation software (at least at the “free” level ) was still so rudimentary. I mean people ( both professional and hobbyists ) have been tackling this issue for over 30 years!

Am I really asking too much, surely English-French translation has progressed further than this? Or has it? Let me know. Anyone find anything that actually works?

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