If you use Chrome as your browser, you could kill two birds with one stone and learn a language while perusing your favourite websites.
Flewent is a plugin for Chrome that will translate words on a webpage into a different language, meaning you can pick up new words in your target language as you read. This only works for English-language sites, and not all languages are included – it lists Chinese and Japanese functionality as ‘experimental’ for example.
You can control how much of the page you want translated by setting a percentage – and if you don’t know the word, you can hover over it for the English translation. The translation may not be perfect as it uses Google Translate, but you should be able to get a reasonable idea from the sentence context anyway.
Speaking two or more languages is a great thing. But it doesn’t mean you have the ability to translate between them accurately – as we’ve seen this month, some words in other languages don’t have an English equivalent, for example.
Mental Floss has some examples from new book Found in Translation to show just how wrong translation can go if not done accurately. My favourite is (of course) about chocolate:
7. Chocolates for him
In the 50s, when chocolate companies began encouraging people to celebrate Valentine’s Day in Japan, a mistranslation from one company gave people the idea that it was customary for women to give chocolate to men on the holiday. And that’s what they do to this day. On February 14, the women of Japan shower their men with chocolate hearts and truffles, and on March 14 the men return the favor. An all around win for the chocolate companies! (Mental Floss)
Have you ever accidentally mistranslated a word or phrase – preferably to hilarious, rather than tragic effect? If you can’t speak a second language, why not try Arabic classes in Washington – it’s better to make mistakes in class than in real life!
Have you ever felt really lazy, so lazy you can’t be bothered to do anything, go anywhere? Well, that feeling has a word – viitsima.
But only in Estonian. A former student at the Royal College of Art in London amassed words from other languages we don’t have in English. The Taiwanese design student collected words from her international cohort to display in an infographic.
Lin’s exercise yields weird moments of recognition: Even if the word doesn’t exist in English, the feeling is vaguely familiar. “People are able to understand the emotion even though they don’t have a word for it,” she said, adding that appropriated words such as schadenfreude make it clear we can feel what we can’t express in one word. (Source: Globe and Mail)
According to Lifehacker, a new Facebook feature allows you to translate posts and comments on Facebook pages.
The “translate” link is shown when a comment is made in a different language. It’s placed right next to the “share” and “like” links. Whilst the service is currently only available on Facebook pages, there are plans to roll it out to profiles also.
Facebook uses Bing to translate the comments, so as with any machine translation there will be errors. It will certainly save some time copying and pasting into a different browser window though! This may also be a handy tool for language learners looking for interesting content in their target language. Facebook has a lot of fan pages, events and interest groups, so it should be easy to find content, read it and then check your understanding using the translate feature.
An interesting article from Wired looks at a company who are crowdsourcing translation to provide a better online translation service.
Ackuna uses a Facebook app and a pool of multilingual people along with a crowdsourcing model to provide accurate translation that will get more effective the more it’s used.
“The process works by breaking text down into segments,” explains Andrew Sylvester, Ackuna’s web developer, “determining what text is repeated, what’s already been translated, and what text still requires translation.
“If someone enters a phrase that’s already been translated properly — translated, reviewed, edited, or proofread by a real human translator, in other words — the machine translation step is skipped for that segment and the correct, human-translated segment is pulled from our ‘translation memory’ and re-inserted into the block of text.” (Source: Wired.co.uk)
Their service is currently focussed on individuals and small businesses who normally don’t have the need or bulk of work for translation companies.
“Hearts and minds” has been used as a military technique since the Malayan Emergency – the idea being that if soldiers win the support of the local people, it will be easier for them to effect change.
But what if the people on the front line don’t speak the local language? They then become reliant on interpreters, which slows down the connection between people. This problem has been recognised by the US military, who have developed a simultaneous translation programme that runs on a smartphone.
Known as Transtac (short for “translation system for tactical use”), the app is currently being tested in Afghanistan, and can translate from English into Dari and Pashtu and vice versa. From the Guardian:
David McKim, an intelligence officer with the US army, said the system was in a six-month test phase, with just a handful of devices likely to see action in Paktika.
“The idea is to give soldiers the ability to communicate, even if it is just on a basic level, with the Afghan people when an interpreter isn’t available,” he said.
Hopefully this technology will help the armed forces in Afghanistan, and become widely available for other users also.
There’s been a lot of hype in the last couple of weeks about Word Lens, a new iPhone app that offers instant translation.
The app works by using the built-in camera on the phone. You point the camera at some foreign text and the translation will appear instantly on your screen. It sounds like magic, but the app uses augmented reality and translation algorithms rather than spells!
Here’s a video of the app in action:
It looks amazing, but apparently there are issues with the translations – some testers have stated they are somewhat less than accurate. As most users point out though – this is a technology that will improve over time. Currently the app is offered in English – Spanish and vice versa, with new languages pairs to follow.
OK, so Word Lens doesn’t help you if someone is speaking to you in a foreign language you don’t understand, but hopefully this is one step on the way to a device that instantly translates speech for you!
I know a few people who have iPhones, and they seem to be massively addictive, and almost an extension of their arm for many.
A new app from the airline Emirates could make the phone an extension of their mouth instead!
The free app, iLingual, provides you with useful travel-related phrases in French, Arabic and German – and lets you use your own mouth to say them.
To use the app, you first take a picture of your mouth and adjust it to fit the screen. You can also personalise it with a male or female voice and alter the pitch to make it higher or deeper. Then you select a phrase and hold the phone in front of your mouth to make it look like you’re speaking in the chosen language.
The app is available in ‘lite’ (6Mb) or full size (80Mb+) versions, with the full version containing 400 phrases – a pretty decent size. You may look a little silly using it, but laughter is a great way to break down communication barriers!
To download the apps, follow the links on the Emirates page, or try the iTunes store.
Here’s a link to a fun video of a guy testing out the app in Paris. Has anyone else tried it out? What did you think?
An interesting article from the New York Times compares human translation to Google Translate. The conclusion of the article seems to be that Google Translate is useful, but not for translating ‘real’ writing – novels, for example.
It does provide an informative snapshot into how Google Translate works:
Google Translate is a statistical machine translation system, which means that it doesn’t try to unpick or understand anything. Instead of taking a sentence to pieces and then rebuilding it in the “target” tongue as the older machine translators do, Google Translate looks for similar sentences in already translated texts somewhere out there on the Web. Having found the most likely existing match through an incredibly clever and speedy statistical reckoning device, Google Translate coughs it up, raw or, if necessary, lightly cooked. That’s how it simulates — but only simulates — what we suppose goes on in a translator’s head.
The article also appears to answer the question of whether translation machines can replace humans:
The data comes in large part from the documentation of international organizations. Thousands of human translators working for the United Nations and the European Union and so forth have spent millions of hours producing precisely those pairings that Google Translate is now able to cherry-pick. The human translations have to come first for Google Translate to have anything to work with.
Google has recently launched a cool new extension to their Goggles app which is very useful for language learners and travellers.
Previously you could take a picture with your cell phone’s built in camera and Goggle would recognise it and bring up relevant search results. So, for example, if you were in London and not quite sure which palace or castle you were looking at, you could take a picture of it and Goggle would identify it as say, Buckingham Palace.
Now the app goes one step further and can help translate text also. Looking at a menu and not quite sure what it says? Point your phone at it, press the shutter button and you’ll be given options to translate… if Goggles recognises the language, that is.
The catch is that the app can only recognise English, French, Italian, German and Spanish so far, although it can translate it to many other languages. Other Latin-based languages are in the works, and Google aims to eventually read non-Latin languages such as Chinese and Arabic also.
And the extra exciting bit? The app is totally free, downloadable onto your Android phone as long as it’s running Android 1.6 or higher. Can’t wait to give it a go!