Closing the Translation Loop

A long, long, it-feels-like-forever, time ago, Anna covered the story that there were a lack of good translations tools available on the internet, and especially in languages like Russian. In that article, she linked to an article that showed Google had developed a much better translations service, but hadn’t released it to the general public. Well, I’m always interested in closing loops, and so I’m happy to report that Google just announced that their, much improved, translation service is now live at Google Translates.

What makes Google’s service interesting is that it doesn’t use the standard “rule-based” translation methods, but rather, it is much more statistical in nature:

We feed the computer with billions of words of text, both monolingual text in the target language, and aligned text consisting of examples of human translations between the languages. We then apply statistical learning techniques to build a translation model.

Anna and I couldn’t help but to try the service out, so we choose a Russian news site: and the results were pretty impressive ( in English) as I could definitely pick up almost every story.


My take is that the translation of websites is only the beginning for Google… Not only will they improve the translations (especially if enough users adopt their feature to “recommend” a better translation directly through the tool), but I can easily see a day in the not-too-distant future when this tool is built right into gmail or google chat. This could make it extremely easy to have an online conversation with someone who doesn’t even speak your language.

In my family this could be very useful as my wife’s parents do not speak much English (and I don’t speak much of their native Russian). At this point that means that my wife has to translate everything that is said between us. What if instead, I could simple email them (in English), but it would arrive with an accurate translation in Russian? The result is that it would actually be easier for us to share stories over email or chat then in person!

From a business perspective, the possibilities are fascinating… Why not translate an entire website (Welcome to “Дождь город


[photopress:it.jpg,thumb,alignright] This comes under the category of “You learn something new every day.” Over the years I have found that I generally have a much higher percentage of clients who moved here from other countries, or whose parents moved here from other countries, than some of my peers. I was at a client’s house over the weekend (helping to strip wallpaper, which I am very good at doing) and everyone at the house was speaking both English and Romanian, except me of course 🙂

One of the guests taught me a new term, that was more politically correct, and I was at once converted! I asked if ESL, English Second Language, was an appropriate term or offensive in any way. My sister had taught me ESL, since she has a fairly high percentage of students that are ESL the same as I have a fairly high percentage in my field. Prior to that I was using “The English is not my first language crowd”, so ESL was definitely an upgrade.

A lovely young lady advised that her husband preferred EAL, and that it was more politically correct. Of course! How American of me to suggest that English was someone’s SECOND language, when in fact, it could be their FIFTH language. My friends from Bulgaria speak at least six languages. So EAL, English ADDITIONAL Language, is clearly more appropriate for most people from other countries.

I am a 2nd generation American, which may be the reason why I have a high percentage of clients that are Indian, Filipino, Romanian, Italian, Korean, Chinese, and others over the years. Not because I speak their language, which I do not, but because I understand that different cultures have different ideas with regard to home ownership.

I remember back to 1990, my very first year in the business. I had a client who was a young man from Russia. It was apparent to me, though he did not come right out and say it, that he didn’t have an accurate perception of what was included in the sale, and what was not included. Now many of my clients have some questions in that regard, but for this client the entire idea of owning a property was somewhat “foreign” to him.

I literally walked around and touched practically every item. He was in fact quite pleased to learn that the kitchen cabinets would be staying as well as the stove. He was a little confused about why the wall to wall carpeting was going to stay, but the area rug would not be there after the owner moved out. And when it came down to the mirror in the living room leaving because it was hanging like a picture, but the “mirror” in the bathroom WAS staying because it was a recessed, built-in, medicine cabinet, he just shook his head and took my word for it 🙂

This brings up a point that a recent commenter raised. He said he sometimes has to read my writings twice to “get” what I am talking about. In almost every real estate transaction a client has to trust that the agent is correct, rather than totally understand everything involved in the transaction. For persons who speak English as an additional language, who have not been involved in home ownership issues for most of their lives, being able to trust the judgment of the agent is even more important than almost anything else. Trust becomes the all important factor in the relationship.

Even if they do not understand all of the details and the “whys”, if they trust the person at the helm, life becomes a whole lot easier for them. Being able to focus primarily on which home they want, as opposed to each and every detail of the process, can be quite a relief for anyone, but especially for EAL clients.