Language work isn’t always a walk in the park. Whether you’re practicing your business Japanese or studying abroad in Italy, you can’t afford to get hung up on one strange turn of phrase or an outdated technical term. Linguists and translators historically kept a dictionary always within reach, but the days of the dictionary are over. Now we have online translation tools, which have replaced the translation dictionary with faster, smarter responses.
But machine translation is no substitute for human translation. Machine translation works best as a support to human expertise, not a replacement for it. It enhances productivity, but cannot grasp the nuance and cultural contexts of language the way a human can. So be selective. Use only the best, and use them sparingly. There are a lot of translation tools out there, so here’s a look at some of the best options to supplement your language knowledge:
Bing uses powerful technology to translate between 61 different languages. Since it’s also a search engine, it’s very easy to roll your translation into a search query.
The best feature about Bing’s translator is its Try & Compare feature, which gives you two side by side translations that differ slightly. You can choose the better of the two and help the neural network learn about language.
PROMPT-Online features a variety of helpful tools, including spoken audio and a back translation checkbox. This makes it easier to double check your results. And let’s be honest, most of us working with language check our back translations obsessively. So this will save you a step! PROMPT-Online knows their audience well.
This new online free tool is a Chrome plugin. It browses with you, so fast machine translations are always just a click away in the handy drop-down window. Its companion piece is Day Translations’ free translation tool, which is in-browser, like the others. Both of these are capable of pairing 74 languages, and the Chrome plugin offers a helpful reminder about the superiority of human powered translations.
Reverso is a clear, smartly designed translation tool. It has some neat little features to help you inquire more deeply into things like context and conjugation. Your translation comes with contextual examples of any word you mouseover, and you can even use the context tool to see more thorough examples of your word in a variety of sentences. This one also comes with a Chrome utility.
imTranslator is similar to PROMT in that it also has a helpful back translation option and audio playback. It’s powered by Google, Bing, and other translation engines. It’s look is similar too, but it draws more from the early internet Geocities aesthetic, which is makes for a fun browse whether they intended it or not.
Now You’re Better Equipped to Translate
Picking apart a translation is fun, but it doesn’t need to be difficult or time consuming. By keeping these tools handy you can ensure that you have the support you need to get through your language project with efficiency and ease. Try them all out for their different strengths and then bookmark your favorite ones!
And by the way, the Russian test quote we ran is from the first chapter of War and Peace. The human literary translation by Louise and Aylmer Maude reads: Can one be well while suffering morally? Can one be calm in times like these if one has any feeling? As you can see, the machine translations did reasonably well. But it takes a human to truly understand language and translation.
Brian Oaster is a Content Writer at Day Translations. He has worked all over the world as an arts educator, English teacher, basket exporter, rare book dealer, fortune teller, and as the first mate of a private sailing yacht. Educated in the visual arts and an avid reader of news and literature, his focus is on international arts and culture, world religions and global politics. Follow him on Twitter @brianoaster.