We’ve all been there before. Anyone who’s ever tried to learn another language, understand a foreign expression, or read a message and respond in a language other than your own, has experienced their message being lost in translation. From slang and informal language to “exceptions to the rule,” having a language barrier can be frustrating.
During my time as a classroom teacher, I used numerous apps, websites, and phone services for parent-teacher conferences with non-English speakers. If I were lucky, the apps I was using would convey my messages clear enough to understand.
Example of a clear translation:
- My version: “Your child has made great progress this quarter”
- In the translator app: “Your child had made huge progress in this current quarter.”
We can all understand the statement I was trying to make, regardless of the few out-of-place words/tense. However, in some cases, it wouldn’t be as clear.
Example of an unclear translation:
- My version: “Your child’s behavior is not acceptable in science class because he constantly distracts his peers and talks out of turn during the lecture”
- In the translator app: “Your child’s behavior is acceptable in a class. He and his neighbors were too often talk with an end off with lessons and very scattered.”
Awkward translations like that would lead to confusion for both the parent and teacher.
Thankfully, Google Translate is using Neural Machine Translation (a radical change Google is enforcing by relying heavily on artificial intelligence) with a total of eight language pairs. Eventually, this will expand to all 108 language pairs available in Google Translate already. Neural Machine Translate is much more sophisticated—it interprets whole sentences at a time rather than phrases word-by-word. Compared to Google’s previous algorithm, Google Translate cuts down 80% of errors. The previous algorithm used a method of cutting up a sentence and matching word or phrase to a large dictionary of words. Now, this system will take that same dictionary (and the thousands of documents already translated) and use two different neural networks to translate the text. One network will break down the sentence to determine the context of the phrase, while the other network will generate the text in a different language.
Bonus feature: Introducing Tap to Translate
Along with more accurate translations, Google makes it possible to translate text right within an app using Tap to Translate (only available in the Google Translate App). Encounter some text you’d like to translate? Copy the text and the translation will pop up on your device. Tap it again to hear how to pronounce the words in that native language. It even works offline without a connection.
To learn more, visit:
Google Translate: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_GdSC1Z1Kzs
Tap to Translate: https://support.google.com/translate/answer/6350658?hl=en