Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Translation, the Google way (La traduction, la manière de Google)

(originally posted on Taking a break from all this baby talk to mention something else that really interests me...

There are a number of great translation websites that can help you speak exotic languages. Perhaps you've used online translators like Babelfish (a fantastic, and functional, homage to Douglas Adams' useful little ear swimmers) or Systranet. Maybe you've even plugged FoxLingo into your browser of choice.

The problem with all of these tools is, of course, that they require you to open up a web browser and, tediously, type in a URL or click on a bookmark. If only, the lazier among us ask, there was a way to translate my clever quips into foreign tongues without even leaving my IM client.


Google has integrated its Google Translate tool into its Google Talk and GChat interfaces through the use of chat bots. Now, if you have a Google Talk account, you can use your IM client (such as iChat, Adium, or Pidgin) as an interpreter in your group chat, or as a pocket translator in your Google Talk client for a BlackBerry.

For example, to have a line translated from English to French, invite into a chat session. Then simply chat the line you want to see translated and the correct translations will come back to you. Comme ça!

For other languages, just chat-up any of the 23 other translation bots. They're named using ISO two-letter language abbreviations. Indeed, one of the strongest points the Google Talk translations offers is its support for non-Latin alphabet languages, such as Arabic or Chinese. Just add as a friend in Google Talk and send it a message to translate from English to Chinese. The bots even translate from several languages into English. For example, to translate from Arabic to English, talk to You can even translate between foreign tongues, such as from French to German, by chatting with

Of course, these are computer translators – no excuse for real human linguists who understand pesky little details like jargon and context. In my experience, computer-aided translation works best if you write your English text in a format resembling the grammar of the target language – taking into account, for instance, Romance languages' reversal of the adjective-noun relationship or Arabic's unique treatment of the definite article and the "to be" verb. And a basic understanding of the foreign language – verb tense in particular – is necessary to troubleshoot the results and polish the foreign text to match your English meaning.

At first, I couldn't believe it worked. But now I'm loving the Google Talk translator. I now have two new "buddies" who speak strange and exotic tongues to me, who never send me an embarrassing chat while a client is standing at my desk, and who always help me sound smart. FB

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Careful though... :)