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

14 thoughts on “Closing the Translation Loop

  1. That is so interesting, the world really is getting smaller.

    You know continuing refining this ability to translate languages could help to save/preserve languages throughout the world. English is becoming more and more used as a world wide language because we need a common language to communicate. As research devleops better and better translation ability then it could become less necessary for English to be so important, and preserve lingual diversity. Very cool to see this happening on the internet.

    Following through to the ultimate end of this kind of research would be instantaneous translation. Of course on Star Trek they invented this already…the Universal Translator! 🙂

  2. Great Scott Google is going to literally change international relations as we know it!!!

    Sadly, before too long my Russian translating abilities won’t be needed. (BTW, where in Russia is your wife from Dustin? I lived in Moscow, Ryazan, and Voronezh)

  3. Yes. FInally. This feature of google would save people tons of money. A few months ago i was in the brink of hiring someone to translate my entire site so as to cater to the hispanic market. This is awesome and like what you said, hopefully it gets better and better. Now this is technology at its best..

  4. You must be joking Robbie… Try the Microsoft option? 🙂

    I’ll pull Anna aside to see if she can help me compare Microsoft’s and Google’s services.

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