smartphone translation apps

Translation Fail: Why smartphone translation apps miss the point

We live in world where a lot of what we do is automated and done for us. Now, all we have to do is clap our hands or say the magic word and the lights go on and off. We sit back in the lazy boy, relax and let our tablets read a book to us while the robotic vacuum cleaner cleans every corner it can reach. We can talk to our phones and ask it to call, email or send a text message to one of our contacts. The technology of the future is here now, and it’s a damn good time to be alive.

smartphone translation appsPlaying Catch Up

One area that technology is trying to catch up on is language translation. Let’s face it; in a world of (maybe) 7 billion peopleusing more than 6,500 spoken languages,in many different dialects per language, you’re bound to meet someone who doesn’t speak a word of English. Although English is the official language spoken in many countries, the most popular language in the world is Mandarin Chinese, with over 1.2people using it on a daily basis.

Spanish, French, Russian and German are also very popular languages being used by hundreds of millions of people worldwide. So it would make sense to learn one or two of these world languages to truly be a globe trekker. After all, speaking like a local would sometimes be enough for you to fit in and be accepted.

Translation technology has grown leaps and bounds over the years. I can remember the very first online toolI used. It was so long ago I forgot what it was called, but it was so off, it gave me all sorts of gibberish (all of them funny) because the program translated everything word for word. In a real setting, languages are more sophisticated and can’t be approached and translated in a robotic way.

Translation Apps are getting better

Free translation apps, like Google Translate and Bing Translator, can do an adequate job -to a point. Road signs, simple menus and basic sentences are usually handled OK. But when you speak too fast or use idiomatic expressions or colloquialisms, the apps completely miss the point and give you all sorts of non-sense. Sometimes, it gets it, but still gives a word or two that is completely off kilter.

So, for very basic things like asking where the nearest police station is, or where to grab a cab, you can use these free apps. But you should always have a back up, like a dictionary that that has “X” to English translation or a phrase book with common phrases in the native tongue of the country you’re visiting. These tools are invaluable to getting around and being understood.

Nothing beats education

When it comes to languages, it’s still best to learn it firsthand. If you have a friend who speaks a particular language you want to learn, ask him/her to teach you a few basic lines and to converse with you in that language. Talking to someone or a group of people will help you immensely in picking up a new language. Another tactic is to enroll in a basic class for your target language. There are a lot of classes you can take. Be sure to avoid the online classes and straight to DVD classes though, because to really learn a language you have to be immersed in it. You just can’t do that in front of your computer screen.

If you need professional translation services, it’s best to avoid these free apps and opt for the real thing instead. Nothing beats a human when it comes to languages. A few of us can speak well in code and use it to design software, but a robot may never get to the point where it responds like a human being unless a quantum leap in linguistics engineering and robotics are made.

Final Word

In the world of languages, nothing beats the real thing. It’s one of the few things that we humans are ahead of when VS our technology. The gap is slowly closing though. I emphasize slowly because no matter how big the computing power of the automated translator is, no matter how many billions of data it draws from, it can never replace humans. Because languages is our turf, and is ours alone, and can never be automated.