Monday, November 2, 2009

Translation Wars: Bing in the Ring

Once in a while it becomes necessary for me to translate a block of text from another language into English. I'm not fluent in any language besides English, but I am something of an amateur linguist and can usually parse out the meaning of an oblique copy. A translator need not be perfect, is what I'm saying, for me to understand what's being said.

But some translators are better than others, so I'm going to compare Babelfish (my first and favorite, then bought from Altavista by Yahoo) versus Google Translate. Oh, and isn't that cute: Bing thinks it has a translator too! Let's take it for a drive.
Yahoo! Babelfish
The ukulele the created where [jieiku] [shimabukuro] and the corporation high peak musical instrument factory give dream to the children in the joint production world The [chiyaritei] organization 'MUSIC IS GOOD MEDICINE which ukulele player [jieiku] [shimabukuro] and the management TOASTMAN and INC. manage (alias: MIGM) Announcing the new ukulele where', the corporation high peak musical instrument factory and the cooperation production which worldwide are the famous guitar manufacturer were done it reached the point of. This ukulele was produced upper quality and the fact that the convenient ukulele is delivered to purpose in the children in the world as a main project of active program “Four of the same organization which [jieiku] has managed long time Strings For Kids”.

Google Translate
Takashi Mine Musical Instruments Mfg. Co., a joint production with Jake Shimabukuro Ukulele give birth to children around the world dream

Management and ukulele player Jake Shimabukuro TOASTMAN, INC. Operated Charity organization 『MUSIC IS GOOD MEDICINE (aka: MIGM)』 is a world renowned Co announced a new ukulele and Takashi Mine Mfg. Co., a manufacturer of musical instruments guitar Led to. This ukulele is a program run by principals of the organization for many years that Jake's "Four Strings For Kids" as the main project has been produced with the goal of delivering quality and affordable ukulele to children around the world.

Bing Translator
Jake Shimabukuro and ukulele birth ukulele player Mfg. co., Ltd. Takamine musical instrument is made of joint work all over the world for children that dream Jake Shimabukuro TOASTMAN the management, INC., were to announce new ukulele guitar manufacturer world famous Mfg. co., Ltd. Takamine musical instruments and joint production 'MUSIC IS GOOD MEDICINE (alias :MIGM)' charity organization managing,.This ukulele, that high-quality and affordable ukulele to deliver children all over the world as the main project of the same organization that operated for many years by Jake subject program "four strings for kids", was produced purpose.
What's noteworthy about this?  For one, Google was the only translator program that acknowledged and retained carriage returns, for one: Bing and Yahoo each spat out a constant stream of text without the line break that was entered.  It makes a difference.  Google: +1

It's interesting to me that Google and Bing were able to incorporate the "untranslatable" name of the ukulele player as well as the word charity within smooth, flowing text.  Yahoo isolated these words and represented them in their Anglicized forms... except "chiyaritei" is a Japanization of the sound of charity.  Yahoo's program doesn't have a database of English words the Japanese have adapted for their own purposes.  Google, Bing: +1

Jake Shimabukuro: Facebook, MySpace, official page.

While none of these translations were flawless, some were more readable than others, clearly.  Yahoo's translation reads like a hilariously inept copyediting job, where someone sat down with a dictionary and rewrote the text word for word without any concept of grammatical structure.  This is usually comedy gold for English speakers abroad, taking photos of restaurant signs and T-shirts with ridiculous linguistic concepts.  Bing was only slightly less inept than that and the average reader would still have a hard task of gleaning sense from that block of translation.  Google's translation is not perfect, but it is the most readable of the three samples.  Google: +1

Two of these translation tools struggled over the company name.  Yahoo called it "the corporation high peak musical instrument factory," which is completely inscrutable.  Google came closer with "Takashi Mine Mfg. Co." but that's still not quite accurate, as the mountains near the factory are called Takamine.  Bing wins this round with "Mfg. co., Ltd. Takamine"--the words are out of order, but the company is called, as per their Web site, Takamine Guitars.  It's important to get a company name (or geographical landmark) correct.  Bing: +1

If you're curious, this is how the text is supposed to look (from Jake's Facebook site):
Jake Shimabukuro, Takamine Guitars Strike a Chord to Benefit ‘Four Strings for Kids’

Music Is Good Medicine (MIGM), the nonprofit organization supported by Jake Shimabukuro and his management company, TOASTMAN INC., is pleased to announce the creation of a brand new ukulele developed by the renowned musical artist and the world-famous Takamine guitar company. The newly minted instrument will play a key role in supporting “Four Strings for Kids,” a program dedicated to making the ukulele available to children all over the world.
So, to sum up: Yahoo - 0 pts.  Google - 3 pts.  Bing - 2 pts.

Bing actually did better than I expected it to--being number two, the saying goes, I guess they try harder. I was pleased with Google's performance but surprised they lost a point on the company name.  For that point I estimated getting the name of the company right was more important than the word order of the company name.  I could have dinged Bing a point for that but didn't feel it was a significant hindrance to comprehending the text.

No comments: