Tagged: computer translation

Computer Translation #2

Google TranslateOver a year ago, in my post Computer Translation, I wrote about how some of my students use translation software when writing letters or reports. I wasn’t particularly impressed with the results, and urged my students not to trust such software.

So, one year on, I was playing with Google Translate and tried a little experiment. First, I copied some text from a Japan Today article, and used the site to translate it into Japanese:

The 20th Tokyo International Film Festival began Saturday in Tokyo with some 300 actors, directors and others making the red carpet walk at Roppongi Hills in front of hordes of fans. Among the actors and actresses were Takao Osawa and Yuko Takeuchi, who appeared in the Japanese movie “Midnight Eagle” directed by Izuru Narushima. Some 300 films will be shown during the festival through Oct 28, according to organizers of the event.

I can’t show you the Japanese translation because it will look like gobbledegook if your computer doesn’t support Japanese fonts. However, when I copied and pasted the Japanese text back into the box and translated it back into English, I got this:

The 20th Tokyo International Film Festival started on Saturday in Tokyo, about 300 actors, directors and other red carpet walk at Roppongi Hills in front of thousands of fans. Among the actors and actresses are Takeuti Takao Yuko Osawa, who appeared in the Japanese film “Midnight Eagle” Shima Shigeru izuru director. Some 300 films will be shown during the festival through October 28, the event’s organizers said.

That’s not too bad, is it? Now, what makes Google Translate so great, even though it’s still in Beta, is you can suggest a better translation. What this really means is that if you copy a block of Japanese text and the resulting English looks a bit funny, you can tidy up the English yourself so Google remembers it next time. That’s right, you can teach Google Translate to make better translations. Imagine how smart it would become if thousands of people did this.

Now before you get too excited. I wanted to run the exact same experiment I did a year ago in my first post on the subject of computer translation. Back then, I used Babel Fish to translate a paragraph from the About page into Japanese and then back into English.

Here’s the original text:

I first came to Japan after finishing university in 1997. My first three months was a homestay-type arrangement with the family of a Japanese friend I had back in the U.K. The following year, after getting my teaching certification, I came back to Japan and have been here ever since.

Here’s the Sept. 2006 Babel Fish translation:

I finished in 1997 and first came to Japan after the university. My first 3 months were the homestay type rearrangement to which series of the Japanese friend who in me has the back section in England has been attached. After obtaining the proof of my professor, the following year, I return to Japan, after that it was here.

Now, here’s the Oct. 2007 Babel Fish translation:

I finished in 1997 and first came to Japan after the university. My first 3 months were the homestay type rearrangement to which series of the Japanese friend who in me has the back section in England has been attached. After obtaining the proof of my professor, the following year, I return to Japan, after that it was here.

Clearly, Babel Fish has made absolutely no changes to their English-Japanese, Japanese-English translation “engine”. I find it quite sad that a whole year has passed and there has been no change whatsoever. Do the people behind Babel Fish believe they already have the perfect translator?

Let’s see what Google Translate makes of the paragraph:

The first time I came to Japan in 1997, the university said. My first three months Homestay type of agreement with the families of the Japanese friends to return to the United States k. I am of the following year, my instructor’s certification later, I come back to Japan where it has been since.

Hmm, it’s not nearly as good as the Film Festival translation, but it’s no better than the Babel Fish attempt. Fortunately, with Google’s “suggest a better translation” feature, I hope it will be even better if I run this teast again next year.

Of their new system, Google says:

We have a system that can learn to translate better if we know where the problems are. In the past, there was no way to tell us about problem translations. Now there is. Next time you see a sentence that makes you go “hmmm,” click the “Suggest a better translation” link. Tell us what it should have said, and we’ll use your suggestion to improve translation quality in future updates to our service. So the next time you can think of a better translation, be sure to use this new interface and share your wisdom! That way, everyone will benefit from it. (Source

It may not be as fun as Google Image Labeler, an online game which Google has developed to get thousands of people labeling all the images on the internet, but mass participation in teaching our languages to computers could really kickstart the automatic translation era.

Computer Translation

One of my students wanted to write an English translation  of an interview she found in a magazine, and not an easy one at that. Her final translation came to seven pages, and she asked me to check it. “Sure, no problem, let me have a look” I agreed.

Although this student’s English level is pretty high, when it came to translation, she threw her conversational ability out the window and reverted to the direct-translation method that all Japanese are taught in junior and high schools. The result was a stuttered and sometimes incomprehensible article.

The icing on the cake was that for a few of the most difficult paragraphs, she had used an online translation tool such as Babel Fish, and for those parts I was completely lost. Any sense I had made of the article so far was replaced by total confusion. Realizing she had used a translation tool, I asked her to come and look at the computer in the waiting room. I pulled up Babel Fish (http://babelfish.altavista.com/) and asked her to type any sentence in Japanese. She chose ‘mou aki desu’. I asked her to tell me what she thought that was in English and she said correctly, “It’s already autumn”. So then I asked her to type the Japanese into the translation box on the screen and when we converted it to English we saw “Already fall is”. Converting this back to Japanese resulted in a sentence similar to “Already there is falling.”

This little experiment was an eye-opener for her, and hopefully in the future she won’t be so dependant on such software. Before I wrap this post up, I thought I’d do a special experiment just for you longcountdown.com readers.

Here’s a paragraph from the ‘About’ page of this site:

I first came to Japan after finishing university in 1997. My first three months was a homestay-type arrangement with the family of a Japanese friend I had back in the U.K. The following year, after getting my teaching certification, I came back to Japan and have been here ever since.

If I put that paragraph into Babel Fish, convert it into Japanese, and then back to English, we get this. Enjoy!

I finished in 1997 and first came to Japan after the university. My first 3 months were the homestay type rearrangement to which series of the Japanese friend who in me has the back section in England has been attached. After obtaining the proof of my professor, the following year, I return to Japan, after that it was here.