In this famous clip from Goodfellas, the character played by Joe Peschi seems to take offence at Henry’s accusation of him being a funny guy. Normally a gangster like Tommy would have whacked Henry instead of just laughing it off as a big joke.
Why did I put this clip in a blog post? Well first of all I LOVE Goodfellas. It is a classic. As an avid reader, and especially keen of the mafia genre, I read Nicholas Pileggi‘s book Wiseguy way before Martin Scorsese made it into a blockbuster movie. But there is another reason I wanted to put in this clip.
The translation industry is huge and one of the fastest growing industries. The global market for translation services is over 20 Billion USD a year. But let’s face it-the translation business is not exciting and relatively little is known about it to people outside of the business. It lacks sex appeal so to speak. But there is one aspect of the world of translation that garners wide interest: funny translations that come out of machine translation software and that are used in public. Some of these translations are so ridiculous, so outrageous, that people can’t help laughing. If Joe Pesci had a translation business, he would probably be saying “are we here to amuse you?”
Here is a video clip that we have licensed that shows some funny Chinese menu translations. (some of the cooking techniques look cool and the food looks delicious-this restaurant obviously puts more effort into the food than in the translation of their menus).
Here is a YouTube channel called Translator Fails. It has about 1 million subscribes. This channel is dedicated to creating songs and video clips which are parodied by using Google Translate instead of the regular lyrics.
Here are some other funny Internet pages devoted to bad translations:
Since it was introduced in 2006, Google Translate has become the leading online machine translation application. It is estimated that over 100 Billion words are translated each day by Google Translate. It translates into and out of over 100 languages. And the most amazing fact of all: it is free! So with such a valuable tool at their disposal, no wonder so many people are using it.
While having said this, everyone knows that machine translation tools like Google Translate should not be relied on for translation tasks that require a high degree of accuracy. Like medical report translation and legal translation. Critical tasks such as these should be handled by a professional translator or translation services company.
Still, there are a ton of very useful ways to use Google Translate. Here is the top 10 list (actually it is 11 but who’s counting?):
Google Translate allows you to translate files, including PDF files. To use this feature, click the Documents tab in Google Translate, select the file and the languages.
2. Using Google Translate TTS as a proofreading tool
Say that you have written a key sales proposal in English and you are about to email it to your client. You proofread the proposal ten times but you want to be sure that there are no errors and that it sounds just right. Just paste the text into Google Translate and (no need to click Translate), click the text-to-speech button on the English language side. The text will be read back to you, offering you another chance at fine-tuning.
3. Using Google Translate for translation QA
Google translate provide you with the option of performing free back translation of texts in order to check the quality of a translation. The workflow is simple. You received a translation from your translator or translation company. Even though you don’t know the target language, plug it into Google Translate and check the English translation. While the back translation may not be very accurate, it will certainly show you if there are missing words or sentences in the translation.
4. Using Google Translate as a Proxy Server
Sometimes you may want to hide behind anonymity on the web. Or if for example a certain website is blocked by your company. In those situations you can use Google Translate as a proxy server. Here is how to do it:
1. Go to Google Translate. 2. Select the source language as anything but English. 3. Enter the website you want to access. 4. Select the target language to English. 5. The website link is clickable in the target language side. Click the link to surf the website behind Google.
5. Using Google Translator Toolkit to translate entire documents
Google Translator Toolkit (GTT) has been around for about 10 years, yet it is off-the-beaten path so to speak. You can use GTT to get quotes for post-edited machine translation services, to translate entire documents and post-edit the result manually, and to translate documents using your own Translation Memory (TM) and terminology list.
The quickest way to translate an entire document using GTT is:
4. The file you uploaded is displayed in list of documents. Click to open the document. 5. Select File-Translation Complete from the menu. 6. Click OK when asked “Are you sure you want to complete.” 7. Select File-Download to downloaded the translated file.
6. Use Google Translate to get sexy accents
Google Translate can do sexy voice accents. Paste in some English text into Google Translate. Select the source language as French. Then click the sound icon. Voila, a French woman is talking. Now select Italian. Bene. Get the picture?
7. Use Google Translate Phrasebook to store common phrases
You can store translation of phrases in the phrasebook for quick and easy access. After you translate the phrase, click the star on the right-hand side of the translated phrase. To access the phrasebook, click the star at the bottom the Google Translate window.
8. Translate YouTube Videos
YouTube makes it easy to translate videos to the language of your choice by adding subtitles. Once you enable the subtitles feature on videos with voice narration, you will be able to watch your videos while displaying translated subtitles.
1. To translate YouTube videos by adding subtitles:
2. Go to YouTube and open the video you want to translate. Click Settings.
3. Click the Subtitles/CC menu option to enable subtitles.
4. Select the default language (English in our case) to enable subtitles.
5. Now select Settings-Subtitles/CC again. The Auto-translate menu option is now available and you can select any of the languages supported in Google Translate.
9. Translate quickly inside the browser’s address bar
Here is a quick way to translate phrases inside your browser’s address bar. Type in the phrase you want to translate following by “in language.” Here is an example. The translation is displayed and you can play it back using TTS (not available for all languages).
10. Use Google Translate in Whatsapp
Here is a YouTube video that I found that shows you how to integrate Google Translate into Whatsapp and use it to quickly translate Whatsapp messages.
11. Download the Google Translate App and use it as a travel accessory
The Google Translate smartphone app has many uses as a travel accessory in your foreign travel. You can download language packs for offline use (like if you are climbing the Andes and find yourself with no Internet); use the camera for instant translation of signs and menus; use speech-to-speech for conversations. And more. The app is very intuitive so just download it and play around to learn how to use it.
This debate has been going on for years. Will machine translation (MT) become good enough to replace human translators? Will professional translators need to find another line of work? If recent history is any proof, the answer is no. MT will not replace professional human translators in our lifetime. This notion is shared by many people in the industry. Here is a supporting quote from a recent (February 2019) Techcrunch article on MT:
The problem with machine translation, when you really get down to it, is that it’s bad. Sure, it won’t mistake “tomato” for “potato,” but it can’t be trusted to do anything beyond accurately translate the literal meaning of a series of words. In many cases that’s all you need — for instance, on a menu — but for a huge amount of content it simply isn’t good enough.
The simple fact is that as much progress as has been made in the last 10 years, MT is (a) not reliable enough to replace human translators and (b) it is unsuitable for 98% of the mission critical tasks needed by today’s customers.
Brief History of MT
First there was rule-based MT (RBMT), which was deemed as not ready for prime time. Then about 10 years ago, Google started the statistical MT (SMT) revolution which was supposed to bring MT to the next level. Which it did, but the promise did not come to fruition and the models did not deliver human quality translation. Then came neural MT (NMT) which was definitely the greatest MT technology ever invented. Now, companies are touting Deep NMT based on Artificial Intelligence (AI) which will surely replace professional translators.
The MT experts keep on telling us that MT will be ready really soon. But that ‘really soon’ has already stretched out into a long time with no real end in sight. And the demand for professional human translators seems to be growing steadily and outperforming other professions. According to a USA Department of Labor report in 2016, translation jobs are expected to grow by 18% in the next 10 years.
Employment of interpreters and translators is projected to grow 18 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations. Globalization and large increases in the number of non-English-speaking people in the United States will drive employment growth. Job prospects should be best for those who have professional certification.
Drivers of MT
As it has been from the start, MT is a scientific endeavor which combines several advanced fields: computational linguistics, mathematics, computer models, statistics among others. MT technologists are geek scientists who speak in a language of their own. If you suffer from insomnia, go to a conference in MT and you will be put to sleep in no time.
Advances in MT are driven by one thing and one thing only: money. Companies are hoping to capitalize on advances in MT in order to make money.
The companies who are promoting MT as a business are either tech giants (like Amazon, Microsoft, Google and Facebook) or LSPs. The tech giants want to get their hands on cheap translation services since they have gigantic amounts of text that need to be translated. The tech giants also have the resources to train the MT systems to provide good translations for their own purposes. LSPs are using MT so that they can offer low cost translation services to customers with large translation budgets.
The tech giants have peripheral objectives as well. For example, both Google and Microsoft have been developing speech-to-speech translation systems for commercial use. Microsoft and especially Google are monetizing access to their MT APIs. And MT is helpful for search engines who want to gain market share.
What Can and Can’t be done with MT
As stated previously, MT can be improved by training the system with large corpora (plural of corpus) of aligned text. So if a company like Microsoft trains their MT to translate Microsoft’s knowledge base, then the system will yield good results. But since it takes huge resources both financially and technically, almost all companies can’t undertake this kind of work. Likewise, using an MT-savvy LSP for PEMT (post-edited MT) work is also tricky. Firstly, the LSP will need to make a huge investment in their MT which will be passed along to the client. And if you do not have huge amounts of texts then the price may be comparable or even higher than human translation. And even after all of that, a human translator is needed to post-edit the MT.
The following kind of translation work can’t be done with MT:
– Certified translation for official purposes. This kind of work requires a signed statement of accuracy by the translator, something that can’t be done by MT software.
– Books/Novels/Poems. In the 1970s and 80s my uncle, Ivan Sanders, had translated a number of Hungarian novels into English. I remember that these projects involved numerous face-to-face meetings with the author so that that translator (my Uncle) could gain an in-depth understanding behind some of the characters in the novel and to understand the author’s thought process on certain parts of the novel. These projects took about two years to complete. No way a machine can translate a novel at the same quality level.
– Scanned images on PDF files. At GTS, most of the orders for online translation services are for PDF files. Some of them are scanned documents which are not great quality. These kind of files require prep work and getting MT into the loop may not be efficient.
– Critical legal documents. If you were buying a house in France for $5 Million and needed to translate the contract, would you trust a machine translation?
Scientists and engineers funded by the private sector will continue to develop MT systems which will represent breakthroughs in science and technology. Quality will improve but only marginally. Demand for translators will increase due to the increase amount of content that needs to be translated.