Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Why I'm not scared of Google Translate

I started university wayyy back in 1997, when some of you were perhaps still in nappies, when I was still a little scared of email, and still using - shock - paper dictionaries for translations. (Imagine: no wordreference forums! You had to do it all yourself! Take up to two minutes per words you had to look up!)

I vividly remember an argument with what at my pretentious university we called a compsci - one studying computer science, or, if you will, an UberNerd (in the days when it was only marginably more fashionable to study IT than it was to put a capital in the middle of a word).

Computers will take over, he claimed, predictably I suppose. In a few years' time there will be no need for human translators. I was nineteen, idealistc, studying languages, and thus personally affronted. I imagine, since I have not changed much, that I waved my arms around and shouted things.

Fourteen years later, here we are. I may well never buy another bilingual dictionary. Wordreference.com is quick, easy, professional, and interactive - it's a real online dictionary used by translators, not one of those Babelfish things that approximates the kind of translation my compsci friend probably thought was sufficient. (Tsk, tsk.) We have Google Chrome, too, which is currently saving my bacon, and I have to say that its language facilities are inspired. And we have Google Translate - much better, I imagine, than Babelfish ever was - I know this because wordreference includes the Google Translate findings in their listings.

And yet the professional linguist is not dead. How do I know this? Because this morning, I had this sentence to translate:

Les vetements de travail du personnel sont enlevés tous les vendredis par une société spécialisée..

Which is roughly equivalent to, the staff's workclothes will be removed every Friday by a specialised company.

Take that, Mr CompSci man. Google Translate would not have had the self-control to put that into unambiguous English. I almost didn't myself.

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