translation is all about

understanding a culture


Free online translation tools ("machine translation")



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As with everything, you get what you pay for. Free online translation sites and translation software can be very useful, but they can also be very limited...


Free online translation is often known as machine translation, because it relies on software rather than humans to do the work. Some are OK and getting better - Google Translate, for example, bases its translations on statistical analysis of its huge database of web resources, with some refining by human linguists, all initially based on a pool of data garnered from UN documentation published in a range of languages. The assumption is that if you throw enough such multi-lingual data around, you must eventually end up with ever-improving translations. Nevertheless, although some results can be impressively believable, others truly resemble the 'monkeys with typewriters' approach.

The major problem with free online translation is that, at the very best, it can give you a decent idea of what something in another language means. Free online translation software is still a long way from being able to - and will probably never be able to - simulate what a human translator can do. That is, understand grammar and syntax, simulate context and register, capture humour, puns, idioms, understand sarcasm etc. [See an article on this here.]

If all you want to do is understand the gist of a letter or email that you have received written in Spanish, machine translation is probably OK. If you want to translate your sales brochure or website into Italian or Russian using one of these programs, however, well, sorry, but forget it. What you will end up with is an often unintelligible and very obviously amateurish mess. That is probably not how you want your business image reflected. For this you need a proper, human translation service.

Take free online translation for precisely what it is - a convenient, but limited, free resource. It might reasonably translate Aunt Agnes' postcard from Torremolinos into English, but not your software manual into Serbo-Croat.

Here is are links to some of the most established online machine translators:


Google Language Tools


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