Have you dined at the Translate Server Error lately?

File this post under Lost in (Machine) Translation.


This photo arrived courtesy of Gareth Morgan at Neovia Financial.

Apparently the proprietor of this restaurant in China decided to create an English-language sign using machine translation (MT) software and, apparently, the MT engine wasn’t working all that well.

So instead of “restaurant” we have “translate server error.”

It’s certainly one of the more memorable restaurant names I’ve come across. I’ll be sure to look out for it when I visit!

And I’ve love to know which MT engine delivered this message.

Google Translate graduates to the home page

Only a few days after Microsoft announces a widget to bring machine translation into your Web site’s home page, Google takes a step towards integrating machine translation into its home page.

According to the unofficial Google blog, Google has inserted its “translate” link into a number of localized Google sites — such as France and Spain. Google.com is not yet included.

This is just another sign that translation is becoming a core element of Google’s world domination strategy. If you’re curious about Google’s market share around the world — here’s an interesting “crowdsourced” document.

Here is the France home page:


I rarely ever use this pull-down menu and I wonder how many others do. I realize that Google strives to keep an austere home page and this is one solution — but I’m not sure it’s worth it. If users can’t find the translation link they may never use it.

Google Translate is no longer growing up, it’s growing out — integrating itself across all of its many properties.

Google Translate now in 41 languages

Google marches ahead with its machine translation engine, adding Turkish, Thai, Hungarian, Estonian, Albanian, Maltese, and Galician.

This time last year, Google supported a mere 13 languages, which was in itself not bad.

But I particularly like the minor tweaks made to the site’s interface. As shown below, you can now click on your language to make it one half of a language pair — a welcome alternative to the pull-down menu, which continues to grow.


What I would like to see — and I suspect is less than a year away — is the ability to simply enter a URL and have Google auto-translate that Web site into your language without you having to specify your language. Google should already know this based on your locale setting — or at least let you set that preference ahead of time.

Google Translate can auto-detect the language for you right now — but you have to ask it to do that. Perhaps the processing overhead is such that Google doesn’t want to turn on this feature by default.

So, will Google support 70 or so languages a year from now? I doubt it, given the current economic climate. As Google notes on its blog, these 41 languages already address 98% of all Internet users. I assume that Google will focus less on language expansion and more on integrating Google Translate into its products as well as improving the UI.

Google Translate adds languages; Microsoft adds translation widget

Google Translate recently added 11 languages to its impressive portfolio of supported languages.

To give you an idea of just how aggressive Google has been in this area, here is a screen grab of Google Translate from 2006:

And here is one from today:

That’s roughly twice the number of languages in two years.

Microsoft has also been busy over the past year. Like Google, it now supports machine translation using its own in-house engine.

And it also offers a handy Web translation widget that you can insert into your Web page to allows users to self-translate your site into their language.

The portfolio of languages is still on the light side, but like I’ve mentioned before, these types of developments illustrate that machine translation (despite its inherent limitations) is becoming a critical piece of the Web globalization puzzle.

UPDATE: Here’s an interview with Google MT researcher Franz Och.

The TAUS take on Google Translation Center

Google translation center

The post I wrote on the Google Translation Center has been the most-visited page on this blog over the past month. Clearly, Google has struck a nerve in the translation industry — and its service is not even live yet.

The Translation Automation User Society does not appear to be as welcoming as I am of the Google Translation Center. A new essay on its site says:

Private companies will always seek world domination and customer lock-in. As a professional in the translation industry, the Google Translation Centre may help you on the short-term, but you only help Google long-term and you don’t help the world at all. Ultimately we pay the price for putting all translated words and sentences in the possession of a single company.

There is a distinct “evil empire” tone to this essay, which is understandable to a point. Google appears to be entering that evil empire stage of its development. Though I still use the search engine.

And the last I checked, Google’s “terms and services” page for the Translation Center had been taken down. So I can’t really say what Google’s policy will be regarding the translation memory (TM) that it may or may not leverage from this Center.

But it is no coincidence that TAUS is planning to develop a massive database of TMs of its own. I’m sure it wants readers to come away thinking that TAUS is going to be far more open with its TMs than Google will be.

TAUS says that its TM database will be free to the world for the looking up of translations of terms and phrases. But you’ll have to be a member to actually have access to the database (on a reciprocal basis) and membership is not free. I’m confident that this database will be of the highest quality as TAUS has some impressive corporate members, such as Intel, Microsoft, and Oracle (Google does not appear to be a member).

Personally, I’m glad to see both services emerging — as well as services from Asia Online and Language Weaver (which is now offering a Web-based SaaS translation service). We are entering uncharted waters and it’s important to have a mix of large and small players, as well as a nonprofit, to keep everyone on their toes.

Is there a risk to the world if Google owns the world’s largest TM (which it might have already accomplished)?


TAUS raises important questions. The answers have yet to emerge.

Watch out ProZ, here comes Google Translation Center

Within the translation industry, ProZ is widely known as the leading public network of freelance translators and buyers of translation services.

But here comes Google…

According to Blogoscoped, Google is about to launch the Google Translation Center.

This is an exciting development, though I don’t expect everyone to suddenly ditch ProZ for Google. Why? Because much of the appeal of ProZ is the community, which Google does not appear to be trying to support. Still, freelancers will certainly want to investigate this potential new resource.

I’ve called out ProZ as one company under threat from Google Translation Center. But EVERY translation agency needs to keep a close eye on this service. It could be a threat. It could also end up being something translation agencies use themselves — instead of paid platforms from SDL. Naturally, for this to happen this new platform has a lot of evolving to do. Still, I can’t help but wonder.

There is no mention of whether or not Google will support machine translation and/or translation memory. I’m assuming they will.

I have LOTS of questions and this service isn’t even live yet. So we shall see what happens. But this is big news, no question.

I wrote awhile back, that the translation industry as we know it is over. The technologists have taken over and they’re bringing brute force computing and massive networks to the table to reduce costs and increase time to market. This is just another sign of this macro trend.

What do you think? Is Google going to disrupt the translation industry or is this new platform going to fall flat?

(Thx Chris for the heads up!)

Update: I just read an insightful article on this Google’s service at GigaOm…