As you may recall, I’ve been focusing on my fascination with language learning for the past few months, and I'm finding that many of you share similar interests. So I wanted to share some of the Cool Translation Tools I’ve been using to help with my language learning and usage.
The first two are relatively recent offerings from Microsoft, and they work with their Instant Messenger and Internet Explorer programs respectively. The last two are similar online translation tools offered by Microsoft and Google. Even if you choose not to use these tools, this summary will give you a better sense of what is now possible and readily available for mass use.
I remain convinced that the use of ever better tools and technologies to augment and support our personal efforts to learn and use multiple languages is one of the best ways I know to truly make a difference. This combination will serve to make us better as individuals and collectively make this world a better place.
First up is a form (or robot) who goes by the name of Tbot, which is short for “Translation Robot”. He (I figure he has to be a guy as he’s not really all that bright and still makes some mistakes) is the child/product of Microsoft Research. you can learn more about him and the technology he works on, known as machine translation, on the Microsoft research machine translation blog.
There is no “install” per se, you just add “Tbot” firstname.lastname@example.org to your contacts in Microsoft Instant Messenger and from then on Tbot is available on your “buddy list” so you can invite it to join in with any of your IM conversations. To explore and experiment with Tbot, you can type in “Tbot?” to get this list of commands he understands. These will enable you to configure him as you like.
1 TBot lang - Show the current language pair
2 TBot change - Select translation languages
3 TBot stop - Stop translations
4 TBot start - Start translations again
5 TBot set - Set your preferred language
6 TBot ? - Show this list of commands
Tbot has a reasonably impressive range of languages available including:
2 Chinese Simplified
3 Chinese Traditional
Obviously many more languages are needed, but they've made a good start.
In addition to being able to add Tbot into your IM conversations with other “real people”, I have also found it handy to have conversations just with Tbot, in essence using him as a language “instructor”. I will sometimes do this just for practice or to help correct my wording and spelling when I’m typing emails or other documents in another language. Here are two ways I do this:
- I type out what I want to say in English, and then I type out my best way of saying the same thing in the other language (for me lately, it's been in Spanish or French). Then with Tbot set to a language pair of say, English > Spanish, I cut and paste my English sentences into my IM chat session with him, and then see what vocabulary and structure he uses. Sometimes I find his better, sometimes I choose to stick with mine, but either way, I learn a lot from the process and from checking into some of the new words, phrases, and grammatical structure he comes up with.
- I try the same process in reverse by setting his language pair to Spanish > English and then cut and paste what I have typed in Spanish and see what he comes out with in English.
There are certainly some instances where the translations are quite comical, since Tbot suffers from the current limitations of machine translation; that is, doing mostly literal translation word by word, rather than determining much in the way of contextual understanding to choose the right phrasing and meaning. However I’ve been playing with machine translation for many years and I'm seeing a marked improvement of late.
I always let those who are receiving my emails and documents know that I’ve used these tools to help me compose and translate and ask for their reactions and corrections whenever they have the time. I've noticed that I get similar comments from them: that these tools are indeed getting better and are producing very readable text which communicates the meaning quite well. Of course, I’m also hopeful that some of the improvement is due to my improving language skills, but there is no question that I am able to do much better and much faster translations with this tool, rather than without, by extending and augmenting my vocabulary and grammar.
Windows Live Translator toolbar button for IE
When you have a situation where you need to translate web pages that are in another language, there is an extremely handy add-in for MS Internet Explorer available at Windows Live Translator toolbar button. Once it is installed, clicking on this button vertically splits your IE screen in two, displaying the original page on one side and the translated version on the other. This split screen mode has proven to be particularly effective according to many of the people who have been using it.
Or you can choose from a number of options when you have this translator running, such as the option to NOT split the window and instead have a “hover” feature that translates whatever you hover over with the cursor. For those who are curious, Firefox offers some similar services and features, but I’ve not yet tried these myself, so if you have, please send me your comments and experiences.
Online Translation services
Online translation services, such as those offered by Google and Microsoft are very helpful when you are composing and translating text.
Both work the same way and have the same interface: two initially blank boxes set side by side. You type or paste your text into the box on the left, choose the language, hit the translate button, and the translated text shows up in the box on the right side. You can then copy and paste this text into your email, documents, etc.
In addition to being useful when you are the author, these online translation services are also very useful when you receive emails or documents from others. You can just cut and paste their text into the window and have it translated into whatever language you’d like. Again, to improve my learning, I make it a habit to first try to understand the text myself and then use these tools to see how well I understood the original, check for key words I might have missed, and other ways I can learn from the whole process.
Es su turno ahora!
Of the above options, I find that although I use all three, I choose the one that seems to suit my needs at the time, depending on how much text I have to translate, how much time I have, if it is a conversation or a document, etc. I expect that your style of work and other personal preferences will certainly determine which of these to use.
While I hope this encourages you to try out some or all of these translation tools, my greatest hope is that they will encourage you to try using and learning other languages more and interacting with others around you in their native languages. In my experience, this leads to a wonderful increase in the richness of my experiences with others, as well as improving my skills for articulating my thoughts and ideas in any language, including my native English. I pick up new phrases, new metaphors, and other extremely helpful ways of more clearly communicating my thoughts and ideas.
Bonne chance avec vos traductions!