Even though Canada is a bilingual country, few people in this law office are fluent in French and it just so happens that I’ve recently had a handful of lawyers desperately needing French documents translated. None of these lawyers were aware of there being translators available online. One lawyer had a 60 page pdf document and when I told him it would take only minutes to translate it using Altavista’s Babelfish, he didn’t believe me. He ran back to his office to email the document to me only after giving me strict instructions NOT to run it through the translator until he got back. He wanted to see this for himself! I hadn’t used Babelfish for a long time and had never used it for anything more than 7 pages of text, so I thoroughly delighted in the look on the lawyer’s face when the entire document appeared, translated, in less than a minute! He was flabbergasted and, quite frankly, so was I. I just didn’t let it show. I was even more delighted when later I walked by to hear this same very animated lawyer telling another lawyer about this “magic” I’d shown him. As I understand it, he had previously been muddling through French documents with his own limited understanding and using a French/English dictionary. No wonder he was so excited!
Of course, we all know that the translations done through Altavista’s Babelfish, Google Language Tools or any of the many other web translators are very literal and less than ideal, but they still do a good enough job to provide context and usually that has been enough.
I know that many French cases are translated into English and I only use the translators for those when I’ve exhausted all other options. Now here’s my question for you. Is there something else I should be using instead of online translators when nobody here is fluent in the language of the document in question? Is there a particular translating tool that people generally prefer? Any tips or tricks?
What I found in this last translation exercise is that Google Language Tools could not manage the large files I needed to translate but Altavista’s Babelfish had no apparent limits. It translated that complete 60 page document in a snap! Google, on the other hand, cut off translating after a relatively small number of characters.
Altavista’s Babelfish and Google Language Tools are limited in language options. For languages not handled by those translating tools (I often need Hungarian and Danish translations, for example), I use FaganFinder’s Translation Wizard, which even offers translations from and to Swahili, Arabic and Urdu, and more. Those I haven’t needed but I kind of hope I do someday.
The lawyer I was working with who was so gaga over the web translators I showed him wanted to know more so I showed him how to translate whole web pages in Google. I also showed him the translator on my Google Toolbar that allows me to hover over a word and see the translated terms in the language of my choosing. I set that up for some lawyers who are studying Spanish and Italian and they’re pretty stoked about it. If you don’t know about it and if you’ve downloaded the most recent version of the Google Toolbar, go to “manage your toolbar” and add and configure the translation button for your toolbar.
This May 2005 article by Philipp Lenssen, Google Translator: The Universal Language, about the way Google Translator works was interesting to me.
I’m no expert on this topic and I look forward to the comments of those who have more experience than I. Teach me.