Need to translate a PDF file? Google Translate does it for you

Update (3.3.2011). Google Docs now supports OCR and translation of PDF files. Read about it here.

Translation of PDF files can be challenging. The text is often uneditable, making it impossible to run it through one of the automatic translation tools. Today I did some tinkering with Google Translate and found something I did not know previously: you can use Google Translate for translation of PDF files. So if you get a file that is in PDF format, such as an RFQ or a proposal, you can get Google to translate it for you in one click. Here’s how to do it:

In Google Translate, click Choose File. Then select the PDF file you want to translate. Then click Translate. After a few moments the translation is displayed in a browser window in HTML format. You can then select the text (e.g. Ctrl-A) and paste it into a MS Word file for editing and formatting.

I tried this out on a few PDF files and the results were very reasonable. Of course the result depends on the quality of the PDF file you start with; if you translate a scanned file or a fax which is lousy to begin with, it probably won’t go over well in Google Translate.

For now, PDF files are not supported in the Google Translator Toolkit but I would imagine that the folks at Google will make an announcement soon that PDF files are supported, as it appears that they have the technology in place to convert PDFs to text/html format.

Another way to translate PDF files is to use an OCR application to convert the PDF file to RTF and then to upload it to Google. We use an application called ABBYY PDF Transformer which usually does a good job of converting PDF files to text format.

Englisch übersetzer, English Übersetzungen

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15 thoughts on “Need to translate a PDF file? Google Translate does it for you”

  1. Thanks Leah, I read your blog post. Most of the information you wrote is already known to many people but your comments about NDA violation through use of Google Translate is something most people probably overlook. Point well taken. Best, Dave

  2. As you said Dave you convert pdf files into text with ABBYY PDF Transformer but its cost is $79. Why not you try quick pdf to word which comes in only $29.95?

  3. Thakns for this informative post, additionally I want to say that a translation feature new to Microsoft Word 2007 that—obviously enough—translates highlighted text directly in Word. To use it, highlight your to-be-translated text, head to the Review ribbon, and click the Translate button. Word can translate either the entire document or just your selection, and it does it through an online translation service. The number of available languages is impressive, so you should be able to translate virtually anything you need.

  4. Thanks to everyone who commented about OCR tools for PDF to RTF conversion. It would be a good idea for someone to blog about the various tools and provide unbiased product reviews and comparisons. If someone does write such a post, please let me know so I can link it up to the GTS blog.

    Just a side note: I tried to use Google Translate to convert PDFs to RTF by selecting English to English translation, but Google displays an error message saying that “English to English translation in not supported.”

  5. I was looking for a free document scanning software on the internet. I had used Textbridge for the past 8 years with many versions of Windows OS and I was not willing to buy another expensive scanning software any more. Then I found some interesting ones online, like Free OCR, etc. Though not as good as commercial OCR softwares, they did produce promising results to me.

  6. It’s not until recently when I find it is possible to do character recognition online, for example with the site Free OCR. This site helped me work today to convert an image file (like tif files ) to readable text. The result is not bad.

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