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Lost in Translation 

Want to do business on the global stage? Need to be able to communicate with people in other languages? Juliet Bernard shows how tranlsation software still has a long way to go before it can replace a highly skilled interpreter.

Translation from one language into another is fraught with misunderstanding and misinterpretation when using a human being let alone a computer. I have always been a little suspicious of software companies that claim they are able to offer packages that will help you communicate with people from a different country, either as a private individual but more especially as a business.

When I was asked to review Systran 6 I was interested in how this package would be able to help me, but I'm afraid I was very quickly disappointed. Raised as a German speaker, I know that this language, although very similar to English also has a number of key differences. For instance the verb goes at the end of the sentence. There are also a couple of really basic mistakes that English people make that cause a great deal of hilarity among Germans. For example if someone asks you how you are feeling in an email and you want to tell them you feel hot, if you use the sentence Systran 6 recommends, you are in fact telling them that you feel sexy. Similarly the package would be inviting you to tell your German colleague you are feeling frigid instead of cold. I appreciate that it is a lot to expect a package to be able to translate idiom, but what I have described to you is really basic, especially if you want to communicate via email. I contacted Systrans (who are also the company behind the schoolchild's friend, Babelfish) and they were incredibly helpful. They offer their software as a way of gaining a broad understanding of foreign documents that might arrive in your office as well as technical translation. Apparently they have spent more time getting the French language translation working in Systran 6 than the other languages and offered me the latest German download to try out.

I think the best way to illustrate the results is to actually show you, dear reader.

I have used a real email from a German contact of mine.

Liebe Juliet,
tut mir leid, dass ich mich heute erst melde. Wir haben noch nichts zum Thema Regia Design Line by Kaffe Fasset gemacht. Lediglich auf unserer Website haben wir einen Text dazu. In Deutschland haben wir sehr erfolgreich den Effekt Regia Galaxy gelauncht und konzentrieren uns darauf. Das Socken-Thema ist bei uns auch nicht sehr neu und die Redaktionen daher weniger daran interessiert:-(
Schöne Grüße aus dem völlig verregneten Deutschland

Now here is the Systran 6 translation

Loves Juliet,
I'm sorry that I announce myself today only. We have still nothing about Regia Design LINE by Kaffe seize made. Only on our website have we a text in addition. In Germany we very successfully gelauncht the effect Regia Galaxy and to concentrate us on it. The sock topic is with us also not much again and the editorships from there less interested in it: - (

Kind regards from Germany completely rained

Systran tell me the package is much better at technical translation, which seems to be true, but the highlighted sentence shows you that the verb has remained at the end of the sentence, as it would be in German, not nearer the beginning, as it should be in English.  The fact that the software has not recognised this, regardless of whether the German was technical or not, does not inspire my confidence. From what I can see, other packages on the market would not have managed any better.

I'm afraid I am not able to recommend this product to anyone wanting to translate from and into German.  If you are a business person looking to develop new territories I firmly believe your best option is still a human translator.

And in case anyone wants to know what the email really said??

Dear Juliet
Sorry to only get back to you today.  We haven't done anything around the Regia Design Line by Kaffe Fasset yet. We only have some copy on our website. We have had great success launching the Regia Galaxy range in Germany and are concentrating on that. Sock knitting is not very new for us and editors are therefore less interested in it.

Kind regards from rain soaked Germany

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Comment by carolinewilson, Oct 21, 2007 22:13

A very interesting review.  It is at least nice to know that us humble human beings aren't so easily replaced by technology!

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