Test results for comparison of free online translation tools – update

A commentator on my Blog recently pointed out that my post on universal language translation, and the test results of various online language translators failed to cover Bing (Microsoft) Translator – a huge error on my part?  Well clearly it is an obvious ommission, but I consider my approach to have been solid (I took the top 10 results from Google, but obbiously Google is biased in a big way against Microsoft, but interestingly seemingly less so against Yahoo, whose Babelfish was included in the search results).

In any case, I have repeated my ‘standard’ test on Bing Translator (same test as I applied to the other online translation tools). Did I expect Bing to come in and blow away the competition?  I thought it might at least come near the top of the pile. It didn’t. The results set out below, with further comments.

Bing Translator (www.microsofttranslator.com or www.bingtranslator.com):

I m 102 seconds clock against swine flu: Jacket, sweater out. “How are you?” Do you have previous diseases? Allergies? “-No?” Disinfect, syringe patch up set afterwards, wear out, next, please. This is for days. “Up the stairs, people have been snake”, Akbar Barialai, Allgemeinmediziner in Hamburg-Mümmeln man mountain-says well and like to 20 meters. His Sprechstundenhilfe has interessehalber calculated how much time remains as per patient: 1.8 minutes or just 102 seconds. “The storm made ill even healthy”, says Barialai.

Conclusion : #4 – Surprisingly rather average. Couldn’t cope with the enlarged first letter in the article, and lots of the translation is literal with poor understanding of context (for example, “wear out” instead of “get dressed”; “people have been snake” instead of saying that people have “queued” or “stood in line”).   Some words not translated (Sprechstundenhilfe, interessehalber).  Did however manage to cope with some new and technical words (Vorerkrankungen = previous diseases, or pre-existing illnesses; coped with “swine flu”).

Also of note, when I first ran the translation on the selected webpage (the Stern article), the translation appeared not to have worked at all – what had actually happened, was that the “auto detect” function (which aims to determine the language of the page being translated) had considered the page to be in Danish, and therefore struggled to translate anything. According to the Bing Translator FAQs, the language auto detect function can sometimes fail on short pieces of text (although I wouldn’t actually consider the article to be short).  Notably, Google Translate had no issue in detecting the language.  The FAQ also stated interestingly that the language auto detect function works “based on the frequency of certain character sequences in the text”.

Other points of note regarding Bing Translator

Website translation

When entering a website address, the screen divides into two, to show the original website page as well as the newly translated version alongside it (see screenshot above).  This is very effective, especially if you have some knowledge of the languages involved in your translation, and therefore can easily check the translation.

New languages

Haiti language translation is now included also:

NEW: To help with Haitian relief efforts we have built a beta Haitian Creole translation engine. Simply select it in the Language drop-down box above.

I’ve checked Google Translate again and they now offer this too (at the time of my original review, Haitian Creole was not one of the offered languages).

Quality of translation

When answering the question “Why is the quality of the translation not as good as I would like it to be?” the response is:

Language translation is extremely difficult, as the meaning of words and phrases often depends on the context and specialized knowledge of the domain area or culture. Sentence structures and grammatical rules vary significantly between two languages, which adds to the complexity of the translation challenge. Currently, it still requires human skills to translate sentences without errors. The quality of today’s most advanced translation software is well below the accuracy and fluency of a professional translator, and many sentences are simply not understandable. Researchers are continuously working on improvements, but it may be many years before high quality translation can be consistently offered by a computer. For this reason, we display both the original text and its translation, anticipating that you will find it easier to understand the translation and to compare it with the original content if needed.

This may all be true, but it sounds like an excuse, and doesn’t really explain why some other translation websites are able to translate with better quality results than Bing Translator.

Translation Bot for Windows Live Messenger

Interestingly Bing Translator also includes a “Translation Bot for Windows Live Messenger” (Microsoft Translation team blog post on this here).

Simply add mtbot@hotmail.com to your contacts and invite Tbot to your conversations. Translation Bot for Windows Live Messenger. Simply add mtbot@hotmail.com to your contacts and invite Tbot to your conversations.

This sounds useful, but obviously only if you use Windows Live Messenger. It strikes me that Microsoft have not really understood their role/position in Web 2.0. Microsoft is indeed still large, and the dominant player with regards to operating systems (a position that is also under threat from Apple’s Mac OS, Google’s Chrome OS, Linux, and possibly also Apple’s iPhone OS) and “office” software (facing new competition from cloud based software and open source software).  They are however seemingly losing further ground with regard to web based services (search, translation, social networking, etc.).

One way that Microsoft might participate more in Web 2.0 is if it were a little more ‘open’ in its approach – eg, not limit the Translation Bot to Windows Live Messenger, but develop it to work also on Twitter (or in Twitter clients like TweetDeck, Hootsuite, Seesmic, etc.), or on other instant messaging software also (eg, Yahoo!, Google Talk, AIM, ICQ, Jabber, Skype, etc.)

5 Responses

  1. Great article! Not only Google translate is the best, but they launched translate API, so now there are thousands of free online translation websites powered by Google, like http://www.sms-translator.net and others…

  2. I think the most powerful online translator is http://www.live-translator.net
    If their online online translator is not good enough for your needs, you can ask a live human translator to translate your text.

  3. […] technology was also a ‘hot topic’ that interested me (reflected in a number of blog posts on this topic) – I still monitor that topic, but not currently with the same level of interest as the […]

  4. […] Test results for comparison of free online translation tools – update (March 2010) […]

  5. A more up-to-date perspective, ‘Not Lost in Translation’, by Kate Russell (of ‘BBC Click’ fame) on the Original Volunteers site:


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