Online Translators: Google Translate Vs. Babelfish

Each week, the Education Techie reviews tech tools that can help students and teachers. This week, the Techie is discussing translator tools. Today's review compares Google Translate and Babel Fish. Schools offering Applied Communications degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

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Which Translator Performed Better in the Test?

In order to come up with a more objective measure of the two translators' merits, I used the opening paragraph of Gustave Flaubert's novel Madame Bovary. The novel was written in French, a popular language of study in American schools. Though English translations can vary slightly, the passage tends to read something similar to this:

Our class was in session when the headmaster entered, followed by a new boy, not wearing a school uniform, and a servant of the school carrying a large desk. Those who had been sleeping roused themselves, and everyone rose as if surprised at their studies.

I entered this paragraph in the original French into both translators. Google Translate returned this text:

We were in the study, when the headmaster entered, followed by a again dressed in plain clothes and a boy who wore class a large desk. Those who were sleeping awoke, and each rose as surprised at his work.

This is what Babel Fish came up with:

We being studied, when the Headmaster entered, followed again were equipped as middle-class man and with a boy of class which carried a large desk. Those which slept awoke, and each one rose like surprised in its work.

Neither one really preserved the meaning of the original text, so I didn't consider this test definitive. I decided to go into more detail to determine which translator does a better job.

What Are the Pros?

I found both Babel Fish and Google Translate cleanly designed and easy to use. Neither site requires sign-up, and both are totally free. Each translator covers a wide variety of languages. They both also allow users to paste in the URL of entire webpages for translation.

Google Translate has a few extra bells and whistles that I think are particularly useful. There's a language auto-detect feature when you enter text into the translation box. This can allow you to translate text from languages you've never seen before. Google Translate also has an audio component that speaks both the original text and the translation. To my ear, the computerized voice does a pretty good job replicating the accents of the respective languages. This helps move the program's utility beyond written text and into conversational skills.

One unique feature that Babel Fish has is a button under the translated text that allows you to run an Internet search with that text. This could be useful if the translated text is unfamiliar to you or introduces a concept that you've never heard of.

What Are the Cons?

One major apparent flaw in both translators is a general lack of ability to recognize and properly translate idioms and other nonliteral translations. This very likely is a general drawback to computerized translation rather than a serious flaw specific to these programs.

In general, Google Translate seemed to do better at capturing the spirit of the text. With simple, common phrases, like 'je m'appelle Jane' - which translates from French to mean 'my name is Jane' - Google Translate did a better job. Babel Fish's translation was 'I m' call Jane.' This is a very literal translation; appelle is the conjugated verb form of to call, and the program doesn't seem to recognize that m' is a contraction. Google Translate fared much better, accurately translating the text. For the sake of variety, I tried simple phrases in other languages and found similar results.

Which Translator Provided the Best Overall Experience?

I think that Google Translate is the clear winner in this contest. This service offers a more comprehensive translation package. Babel Fish offers a straightforward, no-frills translation service, but it ultimately doesn't do as good a job. It may also have a more limited scope because you have to identify what language you're dealing with before translating.

Where Can I Find These Translators?

You can use Google Translate by clicking this link. Or, you can visit Babel Fish by clicking here.

This concludes the Education Techie's comparative reviews of online translators. Be sure to check out a review comparing Babylon and WordLingo from earlier in the week. And stay tuned for more reviews from the Education Techie!

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