05 August 2015

Skapinker on Google Translate

In Translation-ease: Is Google Translate good enough to use in business? (FT, 5 August 2015), Michael Skapinker gives an excellent summary of the state of the art achieved by Google Translate.

Some quotes (my bold):

In his book Is That a Fish in Your Ear? , David Bellos, a Princeton University language expert, says Google has created an entirely new type of translation system.
You may have noticed, as Bellos tells us, that Google Translate, while relying on superfast computing and data mining, is “built upon the millions of hours of labour of human translators”.
Google also requires humans to improve its translations. When you use the Google Translate typing translation feature, you see a small icon saying “wrong?” that allows you to submit your own, better translation.
While Google Translate has improved, it is still not good enough for any credible business to use it for anything other than getting a general idea of what someone else has said.
The truly impressive feature of Google Translate is its voice option. You tap the microphone icon, say something in your language and hear it repeated in translation. It is meant to be a pocket-sized interpreter.
In many cases today, these conversations take place in English. ... Google Translate’s voice feature may be better than some of these discussions. Many of the nuances may be lost — but they are often lost anyway when people are not speaking their own language.
For the important conversations, you still need a skilled human interpreter, and you need a proper translator for company documents, announcements and web materials.
But it is no longer impossible to imagine a day when, having done such superb work and put it online, many human translators have done themselves out of a job.

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After completing a BSc in physics and maths in Australia and extended travels in Africa I found a job in Paris that left me with considerab...