31 May 2006

Translation fun

I use the various free translation programs available on the Internet frequently to translate mostly taxonomic texts from German (and sometimes French) to English. How can one test the accuracy of such a program?

I am starting with the assumption that a relatively simple sentence should retain its original meaning, or a meaning close to its original meaning, no matter how many times it is translated successively, if each translation is accurate.

So, here is a test using two programs.


1. Don't forget to take a picture of the baby snail before the sun sets behind the limestone peak.

To German (Promt):

2. Vergessen Sie nicht, ein Bild der Baby-Schnecke vor den Sonne-Sätzen hinter der Kalkstein-Spitze zu nehmen.

To French (http://translate.google.com/translate_t):

3. N'oubliez pas de prendre une image à la limace de bébé avant les taux de soleil derrière le dessus de calcaire.

To Spanish (Promt):

4. No se olvide de tomar una imagen a la limaza de bebé antes de las tasas de sol detrás de la parte superior de caliza.

To English (Promt):

5. Do not forget to take an image to the baby's limaza before the valuations of the sun behind the top part of limestone.

Obviously, we end up with a meaningless sentence. One problem is Google’s translation of "Baby-Schnecke" to French as "la limace de bébé", which means "baby’s slug". The French word for snail is actually escargot. And then, when #3 is translated into Spanish, "limace" becomes "limaza", although the latter word is not in the Spanish dictionary. (The Spanish word for snail is caracol.)

The second problem is "before the sun sets" turns into "before the valuations of the sun", also during Google’s translation of #2 to French.

Here’s another trial starting with the same English sentence, but this time doing all the translations with Babel Fish.

To German:

2b. Vergessen Sie nicht, ein Photo der Babyschnecke zu machen, bevor die Sonne hinter die Kalksteinspitze einstellt.

To French:

3b. N'oubliez pas de faire une photo à la limace de bébé , avant que le soleil n'ajuste derrière le dessus de calcaire.

To Spanish:

4b. No olvidan hacer una fotografía a la babosa de bebé, antes de que el sol ajuste detrás la parte de caliza.

To English:

5b. They do not forget to make a photography to the slimy one of baby, before the sun fits the part of limestone behind.

This time we end up with even a worse result. Once again, the German word for snail, Schnecke is translated to French as limace.

To get around the limitations of these programs, when I am translating a text, I usually use Promt and Google, compare the translations with each other and then pick the best sentences to create one edited translation. Of course, some knowledge of the subject matter and familiarity with the original language both help.


deniz said...

I think the Babelfish translation is better than the promt, at least for German anyway - the Promt one is really mixed up in German. In contrast, the Babelfish French translation is bad, no one says "faire une photo à" - "make a photo", the correct version would be "prend une photo de l'escargot". And I don't know what "n'ajuste" means, or "calcaire" either. So much for computers!

Katie said...

Hee hee, this is too funny!

Vasha said...

It is interesting that German uses the word Schnecke for both snails and slugs -- if you need to refer more specifically to a slug the word is Nacktschnecke "naked snail". This is closer to following phylogenetics than the English, French, and Spanish vernacular classification dividing them into non-overlapping classes; the German terms suggest exactly what slugs are, a shell-less subset of pulmonate land snails.

Anonymous said...

Never mind the difference between snails and slugs which "might" be considered technical, even the simple translations for sunset into are wrong in both cases.

Anonymous said...

Limaza in Spanish means slug, from latin word Limax.