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Tech Talk with Greg Bailey

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For any number of reasons, the time may come when you need a quick translation of a foreign language. Like almost any other task, the Internet has a way to translate for you.

While there are several different websites that offer translation services, the most well known is Google. Go to google.com and look to the right of the search bar to find an option called “Language Tools”. These features let you not only translate text from one language to another, but also directly translate web pages.

Unfortunately, these features aren’t quite perfect. While they do work, the translations tend to be slightly error prone.

To take a simple example, let’s take something simple, “This sentence was written in English”, and translate it into Spanish. The result is “Esta frase fue escrita en Inglés.”. Take that sentence, and translate it back into English and the result is, “This phrase was written in English”. Why the change in wording when we’re only translating back and forth?

Although online language translators are much better than they were even a few years ago, the occasional hiccup is still to be expected when using them. An English to Spanish or Spanish to English translation is by far the most common translation requested, and because of that demand the quality of those translations are focused on the most by developers. For more obscure languages, the minor errors swiftly begin to become larger.

Even for those common translations however, I would recommend against using an automatic online translator for anything where proper grammar, formality, or tone needs to be maintained. They are best used when you want to translate foreign text into something readable in a situation where you don’t need the fine details but instead just need to know the basics of what the text is trying to say.

For anything more complex or formal than that, a proof-reader (preferably a bi-lingual one) is the way to go. Just remember that these tools exist; there’s no need to get someone to spend time translating something for you if all you need is a rough idea of what the text says. An online translator service will probably do the job well enough.

Any questions, requests for clarifications, or comments can be sent to gregbailey9@gmail.com. Greg Bailey is a Computer Science major at UCR.

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