Using Google search as a translation lookup tool

Google Translate, Microsoft Translator and similar machine translation tools are unsuitable for most mission-critical translation jobs. But Google Translate can be effectively used as an aid for various translation-related tasks. This includes using Google as a back translation tool for validation and QA of translations (see a post I wrote about it here). In today’s post, I would like to show you some Google search techniques that we have used to much advantage in translation projects. These simple techniques can be used by professional translators, editors, project managers and anyone who wants to monitor the quality of their translations.

Let’s say your translator turned in a job with some pretty specific industry terminology. How do you know that your translator translated the terms correctly? Incorrect translation of terminology or improper use of acronyms can be devastating to your ad campaign, sales brochure, video presentation, etc. Using Google, it is pretty easy to check for yourself even when your knowledge of the target language is limited.

One thing we need to remember is that Google search has some amazing natural language understanding technology that is initiated as soon as you start typing in your search query. I am sure that most of you know this already but it bears mentioning nonetheless. As you type in a string in Google you can see what the most common uses of it are on the Internet. And since the Internet is so huge, consensus is a very powerful factor in determining what the correct uses of a phrase are. This works in all of the languages which Google supports.

The first thing you want to do is familiarize yourself with the various country versions of Google search by going to Google’s language tools page (scroll down to the bottom of the page where all the flags are displayed). Depending on the language you are working in, you will want to access the country-specific version of Google when using it as a lookup tool. If you want to check a term or acronym in Spanish, access Google Spain or Google Argentina; if you want to check a term in German, go to Google Germany. And so on.

When in the country-specific Google version, type in the term you want to check. Use the Google exact match feature by inserting quotation marks around the term or phrase. If there are no or very few matches, then you know that the translation is probably incorrect. If there is a Wikipedia page for the term, chances are that the term was translated correctly and reading the Wiki page will provide further help on the language usages of that term.

Google's Internet language and country options (Spanish version)

To further pinpoint your search, use Google’s Internet options which are displayed on the left-hand side of the browser. You can choose to only display pages in the targeted language, or to only display pages in the targeted country. By using these search methods, it is easy to check on terminology usage and to verify that your translators have done a good job.

Another option is to type an English phrase into the country version of Google and then to only display the pages in the target language or country. This often provides many examples of how the term is translated in the target language.

5 biggest translation industry events in 2011

With 2011 nearly gone, most of you are already deep in the holiday spirit and probably thinking of things other than work. So what better time than now to summarize the biggest events in our industry in 2011? In my opinion, 2011 was not a very exciting in the translation industry. A “Top 10″ list would have been better, but I found it hard to stretch it beyond 5. Ready? Here’s my list:

  1. Google becomes a translation vendor. This was a tidal wave in the relatively calm waters of the translation industry: Google got millions of people hooked by providing unlimited, free machine translation for several years. In May, 2011 they announced that the free lunch is over. This caused shock among many people both in and out of the industry. It upset many people, especially developers who created products around the free translations. Google then added more fuel to the fire by announcing a few weeks later that it was making the API a paid option.
  2. Microsoft strengthens its position in MT. 2011 will have proven to be a watershed year for the Bing Translator team at Microsoft Research. When Google made its dramatic announcement, Bing Translator chief Chris Wendt swiftly announced that Microsoft will continue to provide free API services. This won over a lot customers, who came to distrust Google. And when Bing made the terms of their commercial license known, it was done in an understated way that did not cause any of the histrionics associated with Google’s announcement.
  3. Translation startups get serious. In 2011 several startup companies like Smartling, MyGengo and Cloudwords raised Millions of dollars from VCs to deploy online translation services. With that kind of money being invested these companies will surely make their presence felt in the years to come and will compete with veteran companies in the translation services market. These companies will also help propagate some of the new work-flows that people are talking about recently like crowdsourcing and post-edited machine translation.
  4. Facebook machine translation integration. In 2011 Facebook integrated Microsoft Translation to enable its users to read messages that are in different languages. This should be an industry driver and will help advance machine translation technology, due the size and influence that Facebook carries in the world. Will Facebook stay with Microsoft? Will they develop their own tools? Will Microsoft develop new tools for Facebook? I don’t have the answers but I am positive that Facebook will work at making cross-language communication different and better than what it is today.
  5. Transperfect acquisition of Worldlingo. Transperfect is one of the biggest translation companies and it will be interesting to see if they can grow Worldlingo as an online translation business; and if selling translations online will become a significant part of their business.

What didn’t we see in 2011? We did not see any significant advances in speech-to-speech translation. In recent years IBM, Microsoft and Google made a lot of announcements about speech-to-speech translation R&D. But these announcements did not turn into any new commercial products or services in 2011. We also did not see any revolutionary new translation products for mobile smartphones. I hope we see some exciting new translation products in 2012.

Merry Christmas to everyone! Happy Holidays, Dave

Google Translate API Casualties. A partial list

On December 1, 2011 Google shut down the free version of its Translate API (v1) and informed that all users would have to switch over to the paid Translate API version (V2). As many of us have anticipated, this ended the party for many companies that enjoyed free translation services. Here is a partial list of websites/products that have discontinued free translation services to at least some extent.

  • Ackuna, the Cloud Translator. The website is still there but the free translation has not been working in the last 24 hours. (Ackuna is owned by Translation Services USA, see next on the list).
  • Translation Services USA. This company switched over to the Microsoft Translator API so some of the languages work. But some of the languages (like Welsh and Yiddish) which Microsoft does not support are not working.
  • Ortsbo. This company also switched over to the Microsoft Translator API and some languages work. But some of the languages don’t work even though they remain as menu selection options.
  • Lingo24. This company has discontinued its free online translation services.
  • This company has discontinued its free online translation services.
  • ToLingo. This company has discontinued its free online translation services.
  • Transperfect Transimage. This is an iPhone app developed by Transperfect which ran on the Google Translate API. It no longer works. I am betting that there are more free translation apps for smartphones that no longer work.

There are also a lot of websites that used free widgets that were powered by Google Translate V1 or that used scripts that called the deprecated API. You will be able to see some of them by doing a search on “Unable to perform Translation: Please use Translate v2.” Google terms this as a Terms of Service Abuse, click here for more details.


Cinderella night for Google Translate API Users

Anyone remember the Y2K scare? For months leading up to the new millennium, the news media brought us lurid predictions of the havoc which would be wreaked by the Y2K effect. Would planes fall out of the sky? Would the pumps at the gas stations stop working? The power grid? Would the bank computers know how much money we have? Lots of people, myself included, were worried and waited in anticipation for the clock to strike midnight on 1.1.2000.

Why am I bringing this up? Well tonight may be doomsday for developers who built applications around the Google Translate API, and users of those applications. In it’s announcement last May, Google announced that it would be terminating its free Translate API service.

 The courtesy limit for existing Translate API v2 projects created prior to August 24, 2011 will be reduced to zero on December 1, 2011. In addition, the number of requests your application can make per day will be limited. Google Translate API v1 will be shut off completely on the same date (December 1, 2011).

So tonight is the night. Just like in the story of Cinderella, the fair maiden must leave by midnight or be revealed as a chambermaid. But will she leave a glass slipper behind? Will the prince be able to find the fair maiden with the only foot to fit the slipper?

What will happen to all of the applications that run on the free Google translations? Will the translations stop working? Will we start to see a Google message that says “this website needs a different google api key” (like it does for Google Maps)? Will the developers who switched to the Microsoft Translator API need to discontinue some of the languages (since Google has some language pairs that Microsoft does not). Will some developers start to charge money for automatic translation services? I’ll be on the lookout for answers to these questions and I hope you will too. Please report anything you see.

Another issue I am interested in is security. Now that Google is charging for use of its API, will hackers try and target the API? A blog post I just saw warns against this very eventuality. Will some clever developer find a way to spam the (still) free Google translation website and mine the translations for free? Will Google be able to clamp down on this? These are questions which will be interesting to learn more about as the events unfold.

Simultaneous spellchecking in multiple languages spells success for future translation systems

Microsoft Office 2007 Logo

Image via Wikipedia

For years MS Office applications, like MS Word, have come bundled with spell checkers and grammar checkers in different languages. Everyone knows that. But now it seems that the folks at Redmond have come up with a way to simultaneously spellcheck documents that are written in a combination of different languages. The NY Times featured a blog post about it a few days ago. Click here for the Microsoft web page that explains this exciting new feature in detail.

This feature has huge implications for machine translation systems. One of the problems that many MT users experience is translating web pages or documents that are written in several languages. MT systems go from one language to another. So for example if you have a blog post which has comments in several languages, the MT is unable to translate everything and will just pass through some of the text as-is. The following screenshot says it all:

Now this may all change since one of the biggest MT vendors is Microsoft, the company that develops MS Office. Maybe the MS Research people who run the Bing Translator project will talk to the MS Office people and bring over this great feature. I wrote a blog post last year about integrating spell and grammar checking tools into the MT post editing process with information which is relevant to the transfer of language technology from MS Office to Bing Translator.

Perhaps other MT vendors can implement this feature by combining language recognition and spell/grammar checking. I am sure that the multiple language spellcheck feature will cross-over to MT sometime in the not too distant future.

PS Don’t forget to try our new GTS Website Translator at

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