Google Seeks Linguists' Help to Tune Up Translation Services

Google Seeks Linguists' Help to Tune Up Translation Services
Beth Worthy

Beth Worthy


If you enjoy communicating in different languages, you can help improve and refine Google Translate Services. Volunteers can participate in the search giant's online Translate Community by adding their expertise on language to make the service more accurate. This new development was announced on the Google Translate Blog by the division's program manager, Sveta Kelman, who said there are many multi-lingual people offering to help with the 80 languages the service supports, along with the launch of new languages.

Why Translators Are Needed
Volunteers will be able to add new translations of words and phrases to be added to the system, as well as correct existing translations. They can also rate existing translations based on accuracy. It's as simple as clicking the icon of a pencil, then editing the translation. The final step of the process is to click "contribute," which submits the suggested edit. This community help from volunteers will complement Google Translate, which is a statistical machine translation tool. Kelman says that Google sometimes needs the assistance of native speakers to improve the system's algorithms and to learn languages better.

The Google Translate system analyzes previously translated online text, but humans are still needed to intervene to check the accuracy of simple words and phrases. The system is free and is used by billions of people around the world. Google Translate makes intelligent guesses on translations based on patterns programmed into the system, but it's not always perfect. That's why the service also provides alternate translations. Google provides an additional way to improve translations with its Translator Toolkit.

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Language Expansion
The system's current 80 language translations reflect the most common languages of the world, but Google Translate continues to add more languages. Recent additions include the African languages Somali, Zulu, Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba. Asian languages recently added include Mongolian, Nepali and Punjabi. Maori, spoken in New Zealand, has also been included as part of the expansion. Google Translate provides a form for visitors to add even more languages.

Google Translate App for Android
One of the most revolutionary translation tools for travelers is the Google Translate App for Android, which provides speech translation and language support. It's an ideal tool if you wind up at a restaurant where the menus are in a foreign language and the waiter doesn't speak English. You simply open up the app and press the microphone icon. Another feature of the app is gesture support, which makes communication even easier. Other features that can help instantly translate languages include the handwriting feature, in which you write words to be translated, and the camera translation, in which you can photograph written text to be translated.

Issues with Google Translate
The reason Google Translate is not entirely accurate is partly due to the nature of any language being in a state of constant evolution. New words are constantly entering every language through many sources, particularly the tech industry. At the same time, old words fall out of use or may even take on new meanings. Almost all words depend on context for interpretation. Words are merely symbols and sounds that represent ideas and objects and can mean many different things, depending on how they are used. Due to this complexity, humans are still needed to intervene and make corrections to Google Translate.

Another complexity about language is that some languages have more rules than others. It's also true that English is a much more flexible language than others and is not so strict when it comes to common usage. While English provides various ways to say the same thing whereas German is much more specific, a machine may not be the best source for making certain translations. Google Translate does not really understand language rules or vocabulary because it's more based on analyzing patterns in text from documents fed into the system. Even so, Google Translate still has a higher quality than most other machine translation tools.

Certain translations, such as English to Korean, will likely be more accurate than English to German in Google Translate, because German has many rules that neither English nor Korean have. Another vulnerability of machine translation is it does not understand emotion, humor, sarcasm or current slang that may be important to the understanding of a passage. The purpose of a machine translation is more to give you the essence of what is being said rather than an exact interpretation. Once again, that's why humans familiar with the languages are needed to help make Google Translate a better system.

Also Read: 8 Reasons Why Google Translate Cannot Be a Substitute for Learning a Language

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Beth Worthy

Beth Worthy

Beth Worthy is the Cofounder & President of GMR Transcription Services, Inc., a California-based company that has been providing accurate and fast transcription services since 2004. She has enjoyed nearly ten years of success at GMR, playing a pivotal role in the company's growth. Under Beth's leadership, GMR Transcription doubled its sales within two years, earning recognition as one of the OC Business Journal's fastest-growing private companies. Outside of work, she enjoys spending time with her husband and two kids.