I thought this infographic on bilingualism in the United States was interesting. Bilinguals/multilinguals have skills that we should take advantage of, rather than mock; some of these people can be future language teachers or translators.
Along with the plethora of emails lately about crowdsourcing translations (see the last post), a few people have contacted me about their new programs for “translating just one word”. I’m not sure why such programs would be useful, though their marketing folks claim it’s a convenient way of helping people read and understand websites.
Such programs won’t be successful or beneficial until machines have a way of learning context. And if computer programs are only fed with one word, they won’t be given the context anyway. As you saw a few posts back on what can go wrong with just using the dictionary to look up words, you need context and you need people’s brains in order to make sense of words, phrases, and sentences.
If you need to translate just one word, you’d be better analyzing the sentence and looking up the word while being away of the context. A program is completely unnecessary.
Recently, a number of companies have contacted me to ask me to advertise their new free crowdsourcing translation services. I suppose I don’t feel willing to do this, because I am suspicious of just how well such services can work.
For example, many of us look at Wikipedia for information, but we know that it isn’t always accurate, so we always make sure we check the info against other sites or texts. Would people do that with translations as well? Would they have the ability to do so?
Also, how can non-professional translators understand all the language and context in a given text? How can they know exactly what is involved in translation work? Would you let a crowd of people operate on you, just because it was free and they thought they’d know how to do it? No? Then why let a crowd of people translate your texts?
One of these websites even wrote to me to say that besides their free option, they also allow “customers” the option of paying for a better service, one that “allow[s] users of their programs to opt for a more accurate and professional level of translation through hybrid translation, if they so choose.” If you want “a more accurate and professional level of translation”, why not pay a translator? You know, the old-fashioned method of getting a translation done.
An English teacher in France sent me the link to her blog, Pardon My Dictionary, which she describes as “a very modest collection of "how not to translate" examples provided by my pupils and students who have not yet grasped that the dictionary is a marvelous tool providing you use it correctly, and that online translation resources cannot make silk purses out of sows’ ears”.
As a former English as a foreign language teacher myself, I recognize this phenomenon. I can’t tell you the number of times I’d get in homework from students that would say things such as “You sheep food at a restaurant.” Sheep, you ask? Yes, because my students would translate “Man får mat på en restaurang” directly from Swedish, where “får” means both “sheep” and “get”. Again and again, I had to ask my students to use the dictionary, but use it wisely; in other words, don’t just pick the first definition or translation offered in it.
So check out Pardon My Dictionary; it will make you laugh or, possibly, cry.
I met Jody Byrne at a translation conference in Shanghai in 2008 and he struck me as an intelligent, funny translator and academic. So I was thrilled to that his latest book, TEXT, has just been published. I look forward to reading it and I think many of you would find it useful too.
Originally from Chicago, I lived in southern Sweden for nearly 5.5 years, and moved to southern Wales in September 2006. I completed a Ph.D. translation studies in June 2009 at Swansea University, with a dissertation on the translation of children's literature.
Now I live in Norwich, England, where I am a lecturer at the University of East Anglia, and I also work as a translator, writer, and editor.
Contact me at bravenewwords (AT) gmail (DOT) com.