Lost in Translation?… I think not
If there’s one thing the internet has managed to achieve, it’s made … certain viewing materials … easier to view. If there’s another thing the internet has managed to achieve, its having made the world seem considerably smaller. If your best friend was suddenly whisked off to Papua New Guinea in the steam-powered, pre-web days, you’d probably never hear from him again. These days, you’d barely notice he was gone. You could Email him, Skype him or send him a Tweet. Unless he was living in a mud hut, of course.
Unfortunately, the shrinking world has made one of the world’s most annoying idiosyncrasies more noticeable – not everyone speaks the same language. Experts estimate that there are between six and seven thousand different languages being spoken on Planet Earth as we, er, speak.
Fortunately, the internet itself has come to the rescue. There are a fair number of online translation services available on the web – some of them even run by humans. Here we give a run down of the top ten online translators, giving each of them two specific tests – firstly how successfully the German phrase “ich verstehe sie nicht” is translated (it should return as “I don’t understand you”), and secondly whether the translation service offers Klingon as one of its languages.
No surprise that Google (can anyone now even remember the days when everyone used Dogpile?), the rulers of the internet, pitch in at the number one spot. Their translation tool can translate whole documents or websites. They have an auto-detect language algorithm, and offer 70 languages, but sadly Klingon is not one of them. “Ich verstehe sie nicht” came back as “I do not understand”, which is close enough, but at least the site worked out it was German.
Of course wherever Google goes, Microsoft is sure to follow; usually three or four years later. Bing Translator used to be Yahoo! Babel Fish, which used to be AltaVista, the grand-daddy of all translation services. Auto-detection and web-page translation are on offer, as are 41 languages, but again no Klingon. As for the “Ich verstehe sie nicht” test, this came back as “I do not understand it” – which is not really correct, is it?
This site is a lure to download “Babylon 10” – Babylon’s translation tool for your desktop, but there is an online taster as well. There’s no auto-detection, meaning initially “ich verstehe sie nicht” came back as “ ich verstehe sie nicht”, which wasn’t actually helpful. Once the correct tabs had been selected, it returned correctly as “I don’t understand you”. Hurrah! You’d assume, as no doubt there used to be a version of the software called “Babylon 5”, there’d be an option for Klingon, but alas, of the 29 languages available, Klingon was not one of them. Babylon offers a Human Translation services at a pricey $2 a word.
A nice and clean-looking site, Promt offers text, website, upload/download and human translation at a very reasonable half a euro a word. The online translator has auto-detect but a paltry seven languages, and still no sign of Klingon. “Ich verstehe sie nicht” came back as “I do not understand them”, which again, is not really what the doktor ordered.
A site that offers to translate virtually anything (as long as it not in Klingon), be it websites, Facebook sites, MS Word documents, Emails, or even simple text. Their online translator has auto-detect and can handle an impressive 38 different tongues. Another tool that translated “Ich verstehe sie nicht” as “I do not understand it”. German, it seemed, could only be translated to English, French or Spanish. Professional Translation services are offered at seven cents a word.
We’ll forgive World Lingo for the lack of Klingon coverage – we’ll just have to go www.outofthisworldlingo instead. A total of 33 languages were on offer, and “ich verstehe sie nicht” came back as “I do not understand it” after the site seemed to have gone into meltdown for a split second. Another site offering professional translation services, this time at 20 cents a word, although this was for English to Kurdish. They offer a whopping 141 languages available for human translation.
Another nice-looking side, aside from the random adverts. This is a basic translation tool useful for translating the odd phrase. “Ich verstehe sie nicht” was returned as “I do not understand it”, and there were 37 languages on offer, but still no Klingon. The Tradukka site also offers an English dictionary and a currency converter.
Once the “go to” site for instant translation, Babelfish now trades in cumbersome ads to gain some income, seeing it sliding down the scale to number eight in our list. There’s no auto-detect, and only 14 languages. “Ich verstehe sie nicht” came back as “Sorry we are unable to translate your request.” – which was either a very wordy translation or a failing on Babelfish’s part. No Klingon either; slightly understandable as the Babel Fish was in “The Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy”, not Star Trek.
Another site encumbered by adverts, Nice Translator claimed to be “the fast, easy online translator.” Fast it was, but certainly not easy – languages have to be loaded before translation begins. This does have the positive touch of being able to translate into several tongues at once. Predictably, “ich verstehe sie nicht” came back as “I don’t understand it”. Even more predictably, absolutely no Klingon.
Another lure to buy expensive but impressive-looking software, Systranet’s translation page was yet another invaded by annoying adverts, and yet another that thought “ich verstehe sie nicht” meant “I do not understand it”. Straight text, web pages, RSS feeds and files can be translated online, although there’s no auto-detection, and a mere 15 languages. And of course, still absolutely no Klingon. Hu’tegh!