Google Translation Bot

I just read an article that introduced me to a wild new thing: a Google Chat Chinese translation bot. What in the world is a translation bot?! I didn’t know either.

If you use Google Talk (which could be the chat program built in to Gmail or the stand-alone application), you can add a “friend” to your chat contacts named:

en2zh@bot.talk.google.com

It’s actually not a person at all, but some sort of robot (hence the name) that will reply to any English text you send it with a Chinese translation. You don’t actually get to “chat” with it, it’s just an instant translation machine. Of course, it’s not perfect, but it does a pretty good job. Here are some examples:

I sent: “hello, what is this?”
Bot replied with: “您好,这是什么?”

I sent: “shanghai is an interesting city”
Bot replied with: “上海是一个很有意思的城市

I sent: “see ya later!”
Bot replied with: “见雅稍后!”

Ok, so that last one didn’t work very well. But the other two came out pretty well (and oh so polite!).

I don’t think this is an especially useful tool for learning Chinese, I just thought it was cool. Imagine the possibilities for the future if this technology keeps progressing. We’re not too far off from two people who speak two different languages being able to chat with each other. Bots like this could be a kind of middle-man translating everything for each party before it reaches their respective screens. Maybe I should start thinking about another profession.

Comments

  1. Don’t you change 🙂 Machines will never be good, since the would need to understand context, which will never happen in the forseeable future. If however they can, you need to change race anyway (eg become a computer, since they would beat you in any regard soon 😉

  2. It’s fun to use a computer translator to translate from English to Chinese, then translate the Chinese back into English. On rare occassions the English you get back will bear a vague relationship to your original text; more often you’ll get something quite entertaining.

  3. Translation bots are entertaining, but everything I know tells me that until every expression or phrase is known by a computer we will still need human beings to translate things. Here’s an example:

    Has anyone ever heard of 踢牙老奶奶(ti1 ya2 lao3 nai3 nai, “teeth-kicking grandma”)? It’s a Chinese web meme.

    Apparently, the company that produced Neverwinter Nights wanted to market the game in Taiwan and hired a shady company to make a Chinese version. They decided to take all the English text, run it through a translation machine, and then choose random parts to clean up. The result was an unpopular game full of puzzling language and nonsensical phrases.

    There’s this phrase in the game where someone is talking about reaching out for help from an old lady only to “get his teeth kicked in”. A translation bot would translate this literally and this is obviously an expression native to English, so people who played this game in Taiwan instantly became curious as to why an old grandma would deliberately choose to attack a man’s teeth. It got to be a big hit and a moral against thinking translation software is professional way to translate something.

    In my cross-cultural and language experiences, I’ve always been comforted by the fact that for anything odd or annoying I encounter, there’s a corresponding thing in my country of origin. So for every English T-shirt I see with something nasty or just wrong in China or Taiwan, I imagine guy in the US getting the character for stupid permanently tattooed on his arm. It really pleased me then to find out that Taiwan has something that corresponds to the “all your base are belong to us” phenomenon.

  4. Totally agree with Ian, saying we still need human beings.
    When need professional and ccurate translations, we can not rely on technical logic, but have to search for en experienced translator or translation agency

  5. Any program is only as good as the person/people who made them and unless an AI that can actually “learn” stuff, it will be near impossible not to need humans for translating.

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