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November 11, 2008

Google translate tried and tested

Google has added it's translating tool to Google Reader.  This means that now you can read feeds in different languages, directly translated within the Google reader framework.

The performance is ok from French to English, I'm a native speaker of both, and my first degree was in translating-interpreting French and German so you'd hope I'd be able to compare the 2.  I also worked in machine translation for a bit, and it was my thesis topic for my Masters.  I can provide a bit of insight hopefully!

I think that it's ok to get the gist of it, but the grammar isn't great and there are words missing here and there, also French words appear instead of English words in the translation.  Here are the results from Le Monde's feed, in green my alterations:

1- Commemorations: quelles sont les dates auqelles vous  êtes attaché? 

G: Commemorations: what are the dates you are committed?

Me: Commemorations: what are the dates that you are attached to?

2 -Mama Africa chante "Khawuleza"
- La chanteuse sud-africaine Miriam Makeba, affectueusement surnomée Mama Africa est morte lundi 10 

G: Mama Africa sings "Khawuleza" - The South African singer Miriam Makeba, affectionately surnomée Mama Africa died Monday Nov. 10

Me: Mama Africa sings "Khawuleza" - The South African singer Miriam Makeba, affectionately nicknamed Mama Africa died Monday Nov. 10

3 - "Une tragédie froide, comme la vie"
 - Le prix Goncourt attribué à Atiq Rahimi pour "Syngué sabour. Pierre de patience".

G: "A cold tragedy, as life" - The Prix Goncourt awarded to Atiq Rahimi for "Syngué Sabour. Pierre patience."

Me: "A tragedy as cold as life itself" - The Prix Goncourt was awarded to Atiq Rahimi for "Syngué Sabour. Pierre patience."

4- Sarah Palin n'exclut pas de se présenter en 2012 - La candidate malheureuse à la vice-présidence a déclaré que si Dieu voulait qu'elle conquière la Maison Blanche, elle espérait qu'il lui montrerait la voie.

G: Sarah Palin does not arise in 2012 - The unfortunate candidate for the vice-presidency said that if God wanted it fights the White House, she hoped it would show the way.

Me: Sarah Palin does not rule out presenting herself in 2012 - The unfortunate candidate for the vice-presidency said that if God wanted her to conquer the White House, she hoped that he would show her the way.

In the first one, "Attacher" means to tie, to bound, to attach - "committed" wouldn't really come to mind.

In the second, it doesn't know the French for "nickname".

In the third, Google translates literally, although it gets the word order right for "cold tragedy".

In the fourth, Google uses "to arise" instead of the very obvious "to present oneself", it got the wrong definition for "conquière ", and for the last mistakes, it completely didn't get the grammar, because "he" relates to God, so it could never be "it" (unless Google has some special religious beliefs).  Google also omitted "her", which is important in this context.

The errors are lexical errors, ambiguity issues and grammatical errors.  Cohesion and coherence are also not well implemented.  transfer and re-wording fails.   

Translation as a discipline is both an art and a science.  It isn't always a literal translation that you use, but rather a re-write to convey the meaning accurately, and sometimes as the local culture.  For example a "suburb" in Britain is usually synonymous with leafy streets and nice houses.  In France however, it's synonymous with the rougher areas of a city.  A literal translation would completely change the meaning of the text.

But: Machine translation is very very hard.  Google is doing well to get the gist of the thing across and it does do much better than other automated translation services.  It uses a statistical approach rather than a rule-based model.  

More on machine translation in my next post for those interested in the subject.


David Niall Wilson said...

As an author with books in multiple languages, this has always frustrated me. I'm lucky enough to have a professional English to Italian translator as a buddy in Italy, so I was able to get my reviews and interviews translated for me...


Mehmet Ali said...

It doesn't support my language. So, I have a chance to work on that subject ;)

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