Monday, September 30, 2013

Top 10 Free Online Translation Services

Ed. Note:  Since last week's language learning resource blog post was so well-received, consider this a second linguistically-inspired and - hopefully - equally well-received post (of which, I have no doubt, there will be many more). 

The reality of the situation is that this is what the world looks like. We live in an increasingly multilingual society and, as analysts, this inarguably affects our jobs. Daily. 

Figure 1: Languages of the World - Source: This wonderful data visualization
So in light of this increasingly multilingual operating environment, how do we make our jobs easier? 

Below is the answer (an answer, at least) to this question: A compendium of (free!) online machine translation services rank ordered by way of a little linguistics experiment!

Top 10 Online Translation Services
(rank ordered by number of languages translated and evaluated on a five point scale in terms of error rate - 5/5 is best)

1. Google Translate. 3/5
  • I would be remiss in this post if I did not include the infamous Google Translate (for all the flack it gets, I really don't think they are too horrible). And besides, where else do you plan to translate from Azerbaijani to English? With 72 languages, they have the largest repository of the online translation services, but... then again, it's Google.
2. Translator. 3/5
  • The translator is a close second with 53 translation languages, Icelandic and Maltese among them. The only downside is that there is a 300 character limit to translation so, if you're planning on dumping paragraphs into the translator (which you really shouldn't do anyway), this one is probably not for you. 
3. Bing3/5
  • The Bing translator maintains a 44 language repository with a user interface (UI) as appealing as Google's, and the recent buzzing in the blogosphere gives Bing the edge over Google when it comes to translation services. 
4. Free Translation. 3/5
  • Free Translation (using SDL translation services) translates from 41 languages (Bengali among them!), but only into the big five (English, Spanish, Italian, French and Portugese).
5. BabelXl. 3/5
  • Babelxl translates 36 languages.
  • This one is my personal favorite! As an avid linguist and frequent translator, I consider to be the most exciting find of the day. This site translates both in and out of 35 languages across many different search engines! Your output is the same translation provided by SYSTRAN, linguatec, PROMPT and others. This allows you to compare translations for greater comprehension and accuracy. Also, the language repository includes unexpected languages such as Breton (go ahead ... look it up), EsperantoKazakh and Occitan.
7. Babylon. 3/5
8. SYSTRANet. 0/5
  • A little history: SYSTRAN is one of the oldest machine translation software (dating back to 1968) and, what do you know, they now have an online translator SYSTRANet. It translates out of 15 languages but only into the big 5. Google used SYSTRAN until circa 2007 and it is the current translation software behind the dashboard translator app for Mac OS X. 
9. Babelfish. 4/5
  • Babelfish (not to be confused with Yahoo! Babel Fish, which is now the Bing translator) translates 14 languages both ways. Again, the 300 character limit applies.
10. Reverso. 2/5
  • Reverso is an interesting site. It makes up for a clunky UI and limited language capacity (9 languages) with the option to have your full translation read to you in the target language simply by clicking a button. 
A Linguistics Experiment

Just in case you were wondering, I didn't arbitrarily invent the number out of five (after all, who am I to judge; as I said before, I use Google Translate...)

In order to evaluate the 10 translation services listed above, I took a snippet from an article written in Spanish and plugged it in to all 10 translation engines. Below are the resulting ratings out of five calculated by subtracting the number of errors from five.

This was a simple example and should in no way preclude you from trying all of these translation services at some point to determine your personal favorites, but based on this experiment, Babelfish returned the best translation.
This is what was translated into English: "Lingüistas de la Universidad de Glasgow han demostrado de que ver la televisión de manera activa puede cambiar rápidamente un determinado acento. Tal y como publican en la revista especializada Language, sus conclusiones se basan en el análisis de los efectos de la telenovela británica EastEnders, emitida por la cadena británica BBC, sobre el modo de hablar de los escoceses."
Common errors included:
  • Failing to translate the infinitive Spanish verb "ver" into the gerund English equivalent watching (as opposed to watch). 
  • Incorrect syntactical word order of adverbs in the first sentence such as actively ("de manera activa") and quickly ("rapidamente"). 
  • No service except for Google Translate managed to successfully translate "revista especializada" to journal as opposed to specialized magazine.
  • Mistranslation of the past participle "emitida" to various other English connotations such as emitted or issued.
  • No service successfully translated the final clause "sobre el modo de hablar de los escoceces," which means "about the Scottish way of speaking" or, more colloquially, "about the Scottish accent." Common translations were: "the way to speak of the Scotts," "the way of speaking about the Scotts," and "how to talk about the Scotts." This is because in this clause, "de" can be interpreted to mean either "of" (correct) or "about" (incorrect); so this error was due to a mistranslation of the preposition.
**Note: Most U.S.-based translation services translate English-Spanish better than other languages because that is the language combination historically in the most demand within the United States. In short, the more obscure the language, the less accurate the translation. This translation experiment is probably a best case scenario.

For those interested in reading the article from which the sample text came, it is from the Muy Interesante (the New Science Magazine of Latin America) titled Ver la television puede cambiar tu acento! (Watching TV Can Change Your Accent). 

Don't speak Spanish? Use one of your new-found translation services!

Know of a trusted translation service not listed here? Leave a comment!

And finally, to conclude this linguistics saga of blog posts, check back on Wednesday for a post containing other language-related resources particularly relevant to analysis!


Anonymous said...

Hi this information is really a great help for the translators i know most of the translators know about this but it helpful for new translators.

translator | translator services

Unknown said...

This post has helped me find other free translation services like Babylon and bing. Turns out that there are a lot of other translation services available. Thought they have their own flaws, still it was a helpful. Thanks! -

Anonymous said...

I tried the Babelfish site but it won't translate any chinese characters for some reason! i cannot find any help on the site for this problem. Do you have any ideas? plmk thnx! sinocc

Anonymous said...

I am not certain about your 'test' Spanish.


John said...

Best translator services:

1) Google Translator
2) Bing Translate
5) BabelFish

Unknown said...

Although there are a variety of online translation tools available, I think that it's hard to choose the right one. I've been using Google Translator, now that it comes with better features, as I was reading on this website specialized on translation and localization:

Anonymous said...

I use this online translator and I am satisfied.

Unknown said...


I did some tests myself. In Google Translate, Babylon and FreeTranslate I entered the Spanish phrase LANSA Aerolínea en Colombia. The results were strange to say the least.

Google Translate: Airline Launches in Colombia
Babylon: LANSA'S ORCHARDS FULFILL airline in Colombia
FreeTranslation: LANSA'S ORCHARDS FULFILL airline in Colombia

Google Translate was totally wrong and notice the 'S ORCHARDS FULFILL in the other 2. Where did that come from?

Anonymous said...

You ranked them in order of how many languages the interface supports, not a great way of ranking them but thanks for all the new translating sites available...

wolfgrey said...

There is also Yandex.Translate
Similar to Google.Translate - 67 languages, dictionary with transcription, pronunciation and usage examples.

tony boston said...

Google translate has the most languages and its still not so much.Not to mention that there is a reason why it gets so much flack. The others are OK but all of them are limited by the quantity of languages available.I use babylon which translates over 75+ languages EFFECTIVELY.
There is no reason for me to use any of these i dont know how its not mentioned here.
Here is a link Enjoy