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 LEO.org), 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 …):
- Yahoo! Babel Fish (babelfish.yahoo.com)
- Free Translation and Professional Translation Services from SDL (www.freetranslation.com)
- Google Translate (translate.google.com)
- Free Translation Online (translation2.paralink.com)
- The WordReference Dictionaries (www.wordreference.com)
- WorldLingo Free Online Language Translator (www.worldlingo.com/en/products_services/worldlingo_translator.html)
- Babylon (translation.babylon.com)
- PROMT translator (www.online-translator.com)
- Dictionary.com Translator, from Ask.com (translate.reference.com)
- Reverso Translation (www.reverso.net)
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 Dictionary.com Translator, from Ask.com’ (#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.
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: