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“Professionally Correct” Translation vs “Readable” – How Would You Represent Your Business?

November 28, 2006

I’ve been much more aware of the growing internationalization efforts on the web over the past few months.  I watched the video where the popular online video show, Rocketboom, has begun subtitling their shows in Spanish and also read with interest about a real time chat translator. I’ve even read recent comments on my blog about how translations are “readable” and that “back translation” isnt a good measure of machine translation capability.  The international web is clearly on its way after many fits and starts to serve the other 60-70% of the people on the web that don’t speak english as thier first language.

How can a person know the quality of a translation?  “Readable” may be sufficient for a numer of situations but can I rely on machine translation to get me to a level of professionally correct? My point is that if a person doesnt speak another how are they supposed to know the strengths and limitations of a given translation without an expert evaluation. More importantly, would you represent your company or yourself in an area of the world that has that langauge as its predominant language?

Since many examinations of this topic on the internet go from English to another language, here is what we’ve decided to do. My chief Portuguese translator is a retired full professor of portuguese.  She can best be described as a female version of John Houseman’s character on the the TV show, “The Paper Chase”….she is picky, unafraid to disagree, and often argues the smallest grammatical points on seemingly arcane isssues. She has been the right person for us here as she produces “professionally correct” translations without fail.  We took a paragraph from the front page of one of our portuguese language websites and ran it through three of the most popular online translators (original text was written by our chief translator in portuguese…it is not a translation). 

Here is the original text in Portuguese:

“Este site tem cinco metas principais:        Ajudar os usuários a encontrar propriedades de qualidade em qualquer local e em qualquer idioma.    Expandir aos vendedores uma carteira de potenciais clientes, fazendo com que as propriedades publicadas em espanhol estejam disponíveis na língua preferida do comprador.    Fazer que as propriedades apareçam ao vivo através de diferentes tipos de propaganda, como ser vídeos.    Facilitar a busca de abastecedores com ampla gama de serviços para bens imobiliários na área local.    Atrair diversos clientes para provedores de serviços imobiliários.    Obrigado por visitar-nos e volte breve para ver nosso progresso!”

Google translator from Portuguese to English:

This site has five main goals: To help the users to find properties of quality in any place and any language. To expand to the salesmen a wallet of potential customers, being made with that the properties published in Spaniard are available in the preferred language of the purchaser. To make that the properties appear to the living creature through different types of propaganda, as to be videos. To facilitate the search of suppliers with ample gamma of services for real estate goods in the local area. To attract diverse customers for suppliers of real estate services. Debtor for visiting and comes back brief to see our progress!

babelfish.altavista.com  from Portuguese to English:

This site has five main goals: To help the users to find properties of quality in any place and any language. To expand to the salesmen a wallet of potential customers, being made with that the properties published in Spaniard are available in the preferred language of the purchaser. To make that the properties appear to the living creature through different types of propaganda, as to be videos. To facilitate the search of suppliers with ample gamma of services for real estate goods in the local area. To attract diverse customers for suppliers of real estate services. Debtor for visiting us and comes back brief to see our progress!

online-translator.com  from Portuguese to English:

This site has five principal marks: To help the users to find quality properties in any place and in any language. To expand to the sellers a wallet of potential clients, doing so that the properties published in Spanish are available in the favorite language of the buyer. To do that the properties appear to the living creature through different types of propaganda, like being videos. To make easy the suppliers’ search with spacious scale of services for property goods in the local area. To attract several clients for providers of property services. Obliged because of visiting us and return soon to see our progress!

people may say that we are partial to human translation (we are).  I’m also a programmer so I know that some day, we’ll be able to have a reasonable level of machine translation.  For me, a reasonable level of output would be when I can translate a professionally correct input and receive a near professionally correct output and then back translate to English and stil have a readable level of quality.  

We aren’t there yet but I’ll leave the decision to you.

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3 comments

  1. “My point is that if a person doesnt speak another how are they supposed to know the strengths and limitations of a given translation without an expert evaluation. More importantly, would you represent your company or yourself in an area of the world that has that langauge as its predominant language?”

    Probably you’ve replied to your question. You’ve compared 3 different translations of a same text, and we can see that these texts differ in some respects, but they are however a same text. Some words or expressions are translated better in Google’s and Babelfish’s variants (“main goal”), whereras the other points are more clear in the online-translator.com version (“obliged” is better than “debtor” in this context). All the three services are free, and if I look for a reliable translation, I can spend a little more time, translate a text by three different online translators (or desktop translators), and then comprare the differences between the output texts. If a phrase is translated in a same way by different machine translators, it’s highly probably that the translation is correct.
    I would like also to stress, that NO translation is reliable for good and all, even human translators can be mistaken, the only difference is that they hide their mistakes more efficiently.


  2. Sidonie

    Thanks for your note. I agree with many of your comments especially that human translators can be wrong as well (especially with subject areas unfamiliar to them).

    However, I will disagree with the following statement:

    “If a phrase is translated in a same way by different machine translators, it’s highly probably that the translation is correct.”

    I would in no way term any of the three translations above as “correct” or even “usable” to represent one’s self or business in a foreign language…would you?

    Thanks again

    Tony


  3. First Please allow me to tell you how awesome I think your site is, you also know how important linking is for rankings and I would greatly appreciate it if we could link to one another, thanks and have a great day, greg



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