Do you encounter emails and documents in different languages, languages you don’t speak or read? Google Translate has come a long way since the early days and it’s now a great way to translate just about anything…
Douglas Adams was just fantasizing when he came up with the universal translator known as the “Babel Fish” in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but turns out that machine translation has come quite a long way since the early days of word substitution. Whether you’re trying to figure out instructions in Swahili, translate Farsi to French or just double check your translations for a Spanish class, there’s a tool online to help you out.
Of course, the challenge with translation, as every multilingual person knows, is that the same word can have multiple meanings depending on context. English is the same: Does “shark” refer to a fish or someone who wants to part you from your money? Heck, questions about contextual meanings appear on the SAT test, something every high school and college person is all too familiar with…
My favorite translation tool is Google Translate, and it has a remarkable feature set for something that’s free to use. Let’s give it a few tests! First off, here’s an email that showed up in my inbox:
This is Vietnamese, but being able to recognize the language and being able to understand what it says are two very different things. It’s not a Romance language so l I can’t even guess based on a word or two. No problem, let’s jump over to Goog,e Translate for some help.
Notice that the default is to translate text directly and that GT has the splendid ability to detect the language from any of its huge database of languages. So a simple copy and paste solves the mystery of the spam email subject:
Ahh… so this is an advert for an apartment complex in the growing city of Saigon, Vietnam. Not something I’m personally interested in, but at least now I know what’s going on.
I also have a Spanish document – a Microsoft word .docx file – that I get the gist of, but want to translate entirely to ensure that I’m getting the nuances of the language too. Here’s the raw doc:
Got it? You can at least note the word “Spanglish” which is a big hint as to the overall syllabus for this interesting University of Texas, Austin course. But what does it all mean?
Again, Google Translate. This time click on the “Document” button:
Check out the wide range of documents it understands too: .doc, .docx, .odf, .pdf, .ppt, pptx, .ps, .rtf, .txt, .xls and .xlsx. Impressive.
Simply choose the document you want translated and Google Translate will upload it, analyze it, translate it, and show you the results right in your Web browser:
Check out the pop-up window too. Translate does this automatically for each phrase so you can explore the quality of the translation and learn about the original wording by just moving your cursor around. Really great stuff.
Now, as with any translation, it’s not perfect English grammar and sentence structure. “consists in an examination” should be “consists of an examination”, for example. But for you to be able to gain a quick and useful understanding of something in a language you don’t read, whether via email, instant message, on a Web page or in a document, Google Translate is definitely a great resource. Check it out.
Or, as my Vietnamese friends might say, Hãy xem Google Dịch và cảm ơn bạn đã đọc!
Pro Tip: While you’re here, check out all the other computer and tech basics tutorials I have written. Tons of useful stuff to expand your skills and expertise.