Thursday, 21 April 2011

Lost in translation

I recently switched to using Google Chrome as my default online browser a few weeks ago after having used Firefox for a number of years. I initially tried Chrome for a while but switched back to Firefox because I hated re-learning new steps. But then a friend mentioned that Chrome is faster so I tried it again... and indeed it is so.

I then noticed that a pop-up dialog box keep coming up whenever the browser detects that the page I am viewing is not in English. Apparently Google has included an auto-translator function. I didn't find the pop-up particularly bothersome and it never crossed my mind to give it a try... until a few days ago, when I wrote the previous story of the tembusu tree in Malay.

Out of curiosity, I clicked the `translate' button, just to see how good Google's translation skill is... and I had a good laugh! Sorry, no intention of mocking Google's effort but reading the whole post again in translated English gives the impression that it was written by someone who did not finish grade school. I'd be very ashamed of myself if it had been my actual work.

Having been involved in real-life translating work myself, I can confirm that translating written text from one language to another is not easy by any means. To be able to produce a good result, you need to be in top command of both languages, meaning not only having knowledge of the rules of grammar but of context as well. This is where present-day software is not yet able to match the human brain.

To give you an example, the following is a sentence, in Bahasa Melayu from the previous post :
Anak-anak murid kelas tuisyen ini seramai 6 orang, 4 lelaki dan 2 perempuan.

The auto-translator's version is :
Children's tuition for pupils of this group of 6 people, 4 men and 2 women.

Ignoring even the wrong sentence structure, the proper translation for `lelaki' and `perempuan' is `boys' and `girls' respectively.

So, for readers of this blog who do not understand Malay but wish to know what I wrote about, go ahead and use the auto-translator but please allow a (very) wide berth in discrepancy.

Having said that, the auto-translator is not entirely useless. I find it convenient to get the meanings of words not written in the Roman script, say for example Japanese or Russian. In this respect, I cannot fault Google for giving it a try. Perhaps one day there would be a brilliant software engineer who is able to incorporate context, style, inference and nuances in translator applications.


Anonymous said...

I hope that the subtitles that we see on the cinema screen or tv screen are not Google-translated, too. *LOL*

Oldstock said...

Hadn't thought of that Andrea. I'm sure it would be fun if the movies use google's auto-translator :-)

Mata Hari said...

Hehehe...jgn tak tau..kalau tengok wayang, me & my friends selalu gelak besar tgk translation dia...rasa mcm tgk vcd cetak rompak....and lately I rasa dah berjangkit kat tv pulak. Tu sure ambik from google la kot... :)

Oldstock said...

Hi Mata Hari,

Lama tak nampak. Sihat?

Betul apa you cakap pasal movie subtitle tu. Kekadang I wish ada option nak turn off sub-title macam kat dvd.