As you read the story, think about the answers to these questions.
1. What four kinds of knowledge do you need to be able to translate from one language to another?
2. Does the writer think machine translations are useful?

Machine Translators
'The fact is that machine translations are far from perfect.'

What is a machine translator? A machine translator is a computer program that allows you to write a word, sentence or paragraph (or even a longer text). Then you press a few buttons telling the machine which language you would like to translate to and from. The text appears in the new language. (At the bottom of this article you can see a few addresses where you can try out free machine translators.)

Have you ever used a machine translation? How useful was it? Look at these translations from French. They started out in good French, but when they were translated into English the meaning became quite strange!

French: Je suis allé prendre le train
English: I went capture any train.

'Capture a train' ? That is quite a crazy sentence in English.

French: Publiez l'influence et commencez la seconde par une presse sur S1 au temps de l'appropriate.
English: Release the hold and start the second by one press on S1 at the appropriate time.
It is not easy to work out the meaning of this instruction, but it is possible, when it is translated into English by a machine translator.

Look at these translations from English to Korean and back again.

English: Bake the cake for 35 minutes at 350 degrees.
English: In 350 degrees 35 minutes hazard cake hoof ten:00 bedspreads.

I don't know where it went wrong. I don't read Korean, so I don't know if the Korean translation is reasonably accurate. I do know that the meaning has become quite distorted when the Korean is translated back into English.

Does this mean that machine translators are useless? Researchers have been looking for ways to make machine translations work, but many have given up. In 1995 Siemens gave up work on their METAL machine translation project after more than 30 years of development. The fact is that machine translations are far from perfect. To translate from one language to another you need a good knowledge of grammar and vocabulary, but you also need to understand culture and nuance. Machines will probably never achieve this. We will never have a perfect machine translator. Good translation requires humans with good knowledge of both languages and cultures.

However machine translations are generally useful in helping you to understand the gist of something in a language that you are not very familiar with. They do have a role to play. The trick is not to expect perfection. A machine will give you a rough translation. Sometimes it will be wrong. Sometimes it will be funny, but usually it will give you a good idea of what the original text says!

If you've never used one have a look at these websites to see if you can find one for your language. (this is a list of free translators in many languages)