Automated Translation Amusement

The merits and pitfalls of several aspects of machine translation are highly debated in the language technology world, and it's an interesting topic. However, we can all certainly agree on one thing: automated translation does not work: these programs can't conjugate, decline, recognize meaning, read between the lines, do syntax, etc. Many of us have tried this for fun on Bablefish where one can enter a say, German text and have it translated into awful English. The real fun starts when you translate it back into the original source language -- it's never the same, and it's quite hilarious.

Via a Twitter feed, I discovered a tool that makes this even easier, so if you would like to spend a few minutes reminding yourself how important linguists are, click here.

Our example in English: It's pretty chilly outside. I think I will stay home and finish my book tonight. The result in German: It' s-recht kühle Außenseite. Ich denke, dass ich Haus bleibe und mein Buch heute Abend beende. And back into English: It' s-quite exterior cools. I think that I remain house and terminate my book this evening. Reminds us of playing "Stille Post"; and that's not a good thing in translation.

Have fun!


Ryan Ginstrom on January 6, 2009 at 2:17 AM said...

I like "terminate my book." I get this image of Arnold Schwarzenegger coming into your house and shooting your book full of holes.

Kevin Lossner on January 7, 2009 at 8:08 AM said...

For real fun, try putting the texts through that loop a few times :-)

Thomas Gruber on January 7, 2009 at 8:38 AM said...

Pretty funny, but I think in 20 years machine translations will be much better and do most of the translations and translators will be "downgraded" to correctors of pretranslated texts. Think back 20 years in pc history. The Coomodore 64 was state of the art and no one would have expected ipods, xboxes, laptops and internet on nearly every divice.

Ryan Ginstrom on January 7, 2009 at 9:42 AM said...


My prediction is that translators will indeed someday be put out of work by machines, but at that point any realm of human activity will be replaceable by a machine. Including blog commenting :)
This comment brought to you by Ryan's computer.

Judy and Dagmar Jenner on January 7, 2009 at 9:52 PM said...

@Thomas: I hope you are wrong, but I fear you are right. When I went to the Astronaut Hall of Fame a few months ago, I learned that the first shuttles to orbit earth had the processing power of a calculator today -- amazing how quickly technology changes. Hopefully, all of us in the translation business will find ways to adapt and grow.

@Kevin: Yes, very fun. Putting text through several times is a great break from work; and it makes me laugh every time.

@Ryan: I hope this doesn't entirely happen during our careers, but if it does, surely we can find other professional applications for our skills. Judy's computer just went out and bought itself a new German->Spanish financial dictionary, a USB flash drive, and some screen cleanser. Hehe.

PromoLingua on January 13, 2009 at 2:28 AM said...

I run a language consultancy and am a linguist myself and can't ever see machines doing the job of a translator as language is not

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