Free Online Language Translators

I occasionally communicate via e-mail, text messaging, and forums with people in other countries and want a resource to translate things quickly so I can better understand some of what is posted. Any suggestions? –Reg

Despite the fact that the Internet was launched and fostered in the English language, today you can find resources posted in every language on the planet.

Gone are the days that English was the required language in order to communicate with the online community. Everything from social networking sites, forums, and instant messaging to online games will put you in contact with folks that don’t necessarily speak English.

Having the ability to say hello in a number of languages or to decipher an e-mail or Web site that is in a foreign language is becoming more common.

There are many free Web sites that can do the trick and most of them look the same, but the results can be quite varied.

As with any automated translation process, the quality of the translation will always be less accurate then having a human translator. In fact, it can be downright wrong, so I would never recommend using automated translators if you’re working on an important business transaction or legal document.

The best description was posted at one of the sites: They allow you to grasp the general intent of the original text, not to produce a polished translation.

One of my long-standing favorites for translating words or small groups of words is Babel Fish from the long forgotten search engine AltaVista.

It can translate English to Chinese, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish and vice versa (and it will use the character set for that language — even the Asian dialects).

It can translate words and sentences (up to about 150 words at a time) but oddly enough, it works best when the text you translate uses proper grammar! Slang, misspelled words, poorly placed punctuation, and complex or lengthy sentences can all cause translations to be incorrect.

Once the translated text appears, simply copy and paste it and voila, you are semi-multilingual.

Babel Fish can also attempt to translate an entire foreign language Web site, but remember, it will give you the general intent of the original text and so much of it will make no sense.

For instance, I tested various translators with the EPA’s Spanish version of its Web site. The opening sentence of the welcome paragraph was translated to say this:

Independently from our cultural patrimony, all we benefitted from a clean and healthful medio.ambiente.

Not only did it misspell a word (benefited) but it was unable to translate medio.ambiente to environment, which is what the entire Web site was all about.

You can expect this same level of accuracy when you translate English sentences into any other language; much is lost in translation and you can end up sounding like a dork!

Another site that seems to be slightly more accurate on Web site translations (but no more accurate for words and sentences) is freetranslation.com (free translators are on the far right). It also offers a number of professional human-based translation services for anyone that needs to rely on an accurate translation.

Ken Colburn
President of Data Doctors Computer Services, Host of the award-winning Computer Corner radio show, and Author of Computer Q&A in the East Valley Tribune newspapers.

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  • Stephen Boots

    Online translators are indeed a great resource. This one, from Microsoft in the Windows Live arena, is in beta and I’ve found to be better than Babelfish – http://translator.live.com/Default.aspx
    -steve

  • http://www.yongsfy.com online translator

    I alwayse communicate with people in foreign areas too, I Think we can have a talk later. BTW, good article here. Thanks.