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Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

Boring question #29: How accurate are translation software and programs?

Asked by Hypocrisy_Central (26798points) June 10th, 2011

Every so often I need to use an online translator or some sort of translation program, to translate something on a Web page to English or to translate something to someone I am corresponding or chatting with over an IM. How do I know if the translator is really working? If I am speaking to a person via the IM and they know enough English to tell me I didn’t say what I thought I said, then I know the translator is slightly off. If it is a Web page or email there is no one there to give instant feedback so how would I know if it is doing the job? I have thought I could test it by having it translate something then translate it back to the native language but wouldn’t that be a poor test? There are certain words and phrases that don’t carry over from English into a lot of languages but I am sure the translator does its best to fill in the gaps. If I were to translate the translation back into English, I would just be translating the version that the translator did with the assumed or filled in words and phrases and thus I would have no ideal if it was working? Does accuracy come with spending more money? If I got a $45 translator it would work better than a #20 translator but not as well as one that coast $89?

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7 Answers

AmWiser's avatar

Since you don’t know if the translator is translating accurately, you won’t know if one translator is better than another. I guess you will need to keep copies of everything you say to another in case you say something the other person considers offensive. Actually, I have no idea what’s the answer to this question. I would venture to say…you just have to take your chances on whatever translator you buy.

Aqua's avatar

Online translators can be accurate, and they can also be pretty bad. One thing to realize is that there’s so many different ways to say the same thing, and also one word in English might have multiple possibilities in another language (for example, the verb to know. It could translate to conocer or saber in Spanish or 认识, 会 or 知道 in Chinese, depending on how you use it). Only your own understanding of the language will let you know how accurate the automatic translation is and if it’s really what you want to convey your intended meaning.

I’ve used google translate to help me with Spanish/Chinese homework assignments when I’m having trouble figuring out how to express myself, but I almost never take the exact answer it gives me. It helps me get the general idea of what I want (sometimes), but it’s really only a guide.

ETpro's avatar

I just tested Google’s Translator thus. I entered “How long have you been in the Unitd States studying? in English and asked to translate ti to Than. Then I copied the Thai output, ”นานเท่าไหร่ที่คุณได้รับในประเทศสหรัฐอเมริกาการศึกษา?” and translated it back from Thai to English. I got. How long have you been in the United States to study? I was impressed. Of course, depending on the tool and the languages involved, it might not always go this well. But my impression is that they are generally good enough to get the idea across, even f they sometimes use odd and stilted sounding constructs in their translation.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@ETpro That is an interesting bit of fact. I tried that with and it did not do as well. If the reverse translation was correct or close to the translation of the original text the message would have been incorrect, slightly, but enough to change the context of the passage.

ETpro's avatar

@Hypocrisy_Central Before using a translation bot, hit it with a few tests of that sort. You should be able to develop a pretty accurate guess as to its translation accuracy percentage.

mattbrowne's avatar

Their accuracy correlates with how close our best computer programs are being able to pass the Turing test. Same class of problem. Ambiguity. Knowledge about a world changing every day.

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