Talkin’ ‘bout a revolution

Pubblicato il Pubblicato in Servizi Linguistici

And if you’re not familiar with Tracey Chapman’s song, watch her at YouTube (

There is much talk in the industry about machine translation. Imagine it: go to a website, upload your document, select which languages you want, click “translate” and, hey presto, document translated or “documento tradotto”.

But just how close are we to reaching El Dorado?

Well, Google has a free online language translation service which “instantly translates text and web pages”. See it at Other websites exist which claim to do automatic translation. And not only on the web – handheld electronic dictionaries can “translate” small phrases and words.

And if you think this is El Dorado, feel free to translate all your documents there. If you are the kind of person who thinks that translation is, more or less, looking up words in a dictionary and therefore any website could do it, then, please, go to Google.

But hang on, you said that there is a lot of talk about machine translation, so we must be getting closer, right? Sure, we’re getting closer. But get in your car and hit the motorway – you’re closer to travelling at the speed of light but I dunno if you’ll make it.

So what are you saying? That machine translation is impossible?

Put it like this: what if I were to tell you that there’s this fish you can get…pop it in your ear and you’ll be able to understand any spoken language. It’s called marine interpreting. You’d think that pretty cool, huh? Ok, so maybe not a fish, but what about a little device that sits in your ear and could do the same thing?

There are probably people working on just that idea as I write but there are so many good ideas and good intentions. We start off with a dream and everyone gets terribly excited. The bloggers love it because they can show how informed they are; how incisive they can be; how in the “in crowd” they are.

But then what? I need an end-of-quarter report translated. I need a press release translated. My brochures too.

So after getting sloshed on the alcopop of machine translation, I awake to a hangover of 10,000 words from English to Spanish by Friday. There may be a lot of talk about machine translation but what’s Spanish for “It sounds like a whisper”?