Free online translation websites tested – guess who the winner is …

Mashable recently reported on ‘Google Translate Now Talks and Translates in Real-time‘ (16 November 2009). I haven’t used any online translation tools in quite some time (apart from the checking the odd word now and then with, but clearly they have developed quite a lot in the last couple of years.

The power of these language translation tools now have made me think, what is the best free translation software currently on the internet?

Firstly, there are a lot of online translation tools, many of which are free, and some of which are rather only online language dictionaries (like LEO, which I like) but which don’t have the ability to translate passages of text, web pages, or whole documents. Some offer a professional service (human translators who will send your document back to you translated) or downloadable software. I have focused my comments on the free online text translators.

Googling ‘online translation‘ comes up with the following list on the first page, in this order (the first 10, out of 31.9 million search results …):

  1. Yahoo! Babel Fish (
  2. Free Translation and Professional Translation Services from SDL (
  3. Google Translate (
  4. Free Translation Online (
  5. The WordReference Dictionaries (
  6. WorldLingo Free Online Language Translator (
  7. Babylon (
  8. PROMT translator (
  9. Translator, from (
  10. Reverso Translation (

Free Translation Online (#4), which is a version of the PROMT translator, allows a direct comparison of its own translation to Google Translate, on its own website (having tested it a few times, PROMT seemed to be the weaker translater on each occasion, losing out to Google Translate!).  ‘The Translator, from’ (#9) is actually powered by Google Translate.  Not all of the above translation websites allow for translation of other websites.

I decided to ‘test’ the translation of each of these sites, from German to English, using an article from Stern magazine, ‘102 Sekunden bis zur nächsten Spritze‘, a commentary on swine flu immunisation in Germany.  While I translated the whole webpage where possible, I focused the test on the opening paragraph only.  Of course, my testing is flawed, because I only tested one article, and only one language conversion (German-to-English; not vice-versa or for other languages), but that’s where I drew the line.

The winner, based on my qualitative assessment, was Google Translate – did you expect anything else?! (see my summary comments why, and the results of the test, here).

Aside from being the best result for the most accurate conversion (my view), Google Translation outshone the other options for other reasons too, since it can do all the things that other websites do (translate text, webpages, etc.) as well as more – in particular, it can:

  • learn from users who are able to spot weaknesses in the translations and suggest a correction (see below)

  • work in real-time, showing the translated text as you type
  • can read out (audio) your translation for you, helping you understand the pronunciation (not in all languages however)
  • cope with non Roman characters (cyrilic? no problem! arabic? of course! …) – all are displayed in the other character sets, and phonetically also, as wished

  • translate documents (even PDFs – I tested this online using various foreign language documents that I found randomly online, including PHD theses, legal reports, etc. and all seemed to translate very well)
  • search for an keyword, which is submitted in one language (eg, English), for search results in foreign language pages (eg Arabic), and then show the resulting webpages translated back into the first language (English)
  • be embedded in webpages, blogs etc. such that readers can choose the language to read your webpage/blog in – unfortunately I can’t offer this since I do not self-host my blog (here)
  • be included into browsers to allow 1-click language translation for chosen languages (here)
  • be downloaded in the Google Toolbar to allow translation by simply hovering over a word on a web page (here) – unfortunately this only works so far for Internet Explorer and FireFox, and only translates from English into a small number of languages

Some others may do some of these, but no-one apart from Google offers it all (and again, for free).  Perhaps unsurprisingly, Yahoo (Babel FIsh) came the closest, with its own toolbar option and website option (here).

Google has prepared this short YouTube video on its new ‘real time translation’ in Google Translate:

10 Responses

  1. […] in a search for ‘online translation’ in Google. See my original article on this topic, here, which comments also on the results […]

  2. It seems that translation is all the rage at the moment … WordPress and Twitter also taking big steps to appeal to a wider audience:

  3. I’ve found the “translate” button that you can add to your browser to be quite amazing (although it does encourage laziness!):

    Just pick the language that you want foreign language webpages to appear in (in my case ‘English’) and drag it onto your toolbar. Then, all you need to do is go to a webpage (eg, and click on the button in your toolbar and the whole page immediately appears in your chosen language (with a decent, and very readable, if not perfect, translation).

  4. […] on November 21, 2009 by matthewdbenson I recently posted an article on my blog titled ‘Free online translation websites tested – guess who the winner is …‘, where I commented on the recent developments of free online translation tools, together […]

  5. Great New York Times article by Miguel Helft, “Google’s Computing Power Refines Translation Tool” (8/9 March 2010):

    Also looks like benchmarking different online translation systems is becoming popular … check out New York Times’ version of my own efforts, here:

    Finally, a good article on the Google Translator Toolkit and how it is helping preserve minority languages (again, Miguel Helft, in New York Times):

  6. Seems that Franz Josef Och is a key person with regards to the development of online translation (leading Google’s machine translation group):

    Seems that he has been writing articles on this topic for some time now:

    Also, an interesting blog post (on ‘Google Research Blog’) by Mike Schuster, Google Research and Kaisuke Nakajima, Google Japan, “Teaching a Computer to Understand Japanese”:

  7. The New York Times article that I commented on above mentions a test done in 2005 by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), a USA based institute.

    The NIST’s “Open Machine Translation (OpenMT) Evaluation” can be found here, with links to all years’ tests, including 2005:

    It seems that while Google Translate won in 2005, it did not take part, or was not included, in 2009 (I couldn’t find any documented reason for this).

  8. Why i can’t install OnTranslator on my macbook? Can’t understand what the problem. Does anyone uses that translator?

  9. Sorry, that not for mac 😦

  10. […] Free online translation websites tested – guess who the winner is … (November 2009) 50.111512 8.680506 Share this:TwitterLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

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