Free online translation services from Yahoo!, Google, Microsoft

Recently I was researching some technical information on a Brazilian manufactured product. There was a dearth of information available on English language Web sites, but there were dozens of Brazilian Web sites that contained my search term. I do not read Portuguese, so I had to translate the content of the Brazilian Web pages into English in order to determine if they contained the content that I needed. I was aware of the Google translate utility (translate.google.com), and remember the “old” Babelfish translation service (now owned by Yahoo! at babelfish.yahoo.com). While I had never used it, it seemed to me that Microsoft would also be in the competitive fray and offers a similar service at www.microsofttranslator.com. All of these Web services offer free translation between any combination of dozens of languages, and can even display foreign language Web sites in English or any other of the listed languages.

In the old days of Web services, Babelfish was the premier translation service and could translate text between dozens of languages. As I had done in the past, I copied the text on the Web page. This is done by placing the cursor over top-left corner of the desired text, click and hold the left mouse button, and drag over the desire text until it is painted. Move the cursor over the painted text and then right click on “copy”; move the cursor to the “Translate a block of text” box, and then right click the mouse and select “paste.” The selected text will now appear in the box. Open the menu under the box that lists the available language combinations, select the desired combination, and then click on “Translate.” The translated text will appear in the selected language at the top of the page. As a test, I copied the first paragraph of this column, pasted it in the “Translate a block of text” box, and selected English to Italian; in an instant, the text appeared in Italian at the top of the window. Bablefish can only translate up to 150 words at a time, so long documents may take several copy-paste sessions to display the complete translation. I used Notepad (START - RUN - NOTEPAD), and sequentially copied and pasted each box of translated text into Notepad until the entire document was translated.

Something that did not exist years ago when I first used Babelfish was the ability to translate and display entire Web sites in the selected languages. As an example, I entered the Examiner Web address in the “Translate a Web page” box, and selected English to Spanish. Upon clicking on the “Translate” button, the Examiner Web page instantly appeared in Spanish. Babelfish can translate between any combination of about a dozen languages, including English, French, Spanish, French, Russian, Chinese (two versions), Greek, Japanese, German and Portuguese. As with all of the free online translation services, there may be some translation errors, but the translation is reasonably capable of being read in the target language.

Google’s free translation service (translate.google.com) is now among the most widely used free online translation services and can translate between any permutations of 63 languages. The languages available for translation on the Google service include all of the European and major Asian languages, as well as Yiddish, Arabic, Hebrew, Estonian, Finnish, Urdu, Swahili, Tamil, and Vietnamese, and dozens of other languages. As with the other translate services, text and Web pages can be translated between any selected languages. Repeating the test I did on Bablefish, I copied the first paragraph of this column into Google’s “Translate” box, and selected the option to automatically detect the original language; this time I selected that the target language would be Arabic. In an instant, my English text appeared in Arabic. I also instantly translated the Examiner Web site to Vietnamese, by simply typing www.theexaminer.com in the left box, and selecting Vietnamese for the target language. The entire Web site appeared in Vietnamese after clicking on the Web link in the right box.

Google can translate much more than just text and Web pages (simply type or paste the Web address in the translate box, and then select a target language), but can also import many forms of documents and translate them directly by clicking on the “Translate a document” link at the bottom of the window. This opens a standard directory of the user’s hard drive, and compatible document formats can be selected and then displayed in the selected language. Note that some of your original formatting may not be preserved. As a test of the document translation service, I selected a previous Examiner column and selected a random target language, Ukrainian. The Microsoft Word .doc file immediately opened in Ukrainian in the Web browser. Google also offers a free utility that can be copied and pasted into a Web site’s code that will display a small tool on the Web page that can automatically display the site in any of the listed languages. This free Google tool is available at translate.google.com/translate_tools?hl=en.Not to be outdone in this highly competitive field, Microsoft introduced its Bing Translator at microsofttranslator.com. Similar to the offerings from Yahoo! and Google, Bing can translate between any of 37 different languages and can accept input either in text or by Internet Web address, with output similar to its competitors. What is interesting about the Bing service are  it options for the user. On the bottom of the Bing Translate Web page is an icon “For Webmasters.” Bing says, “ Use the Microsoft Translator Webpage widget to deliver your site in the visitor’s language. The visitor never leaves your site, and the widget seamlessly translates each page as they navigate.” With this service, any Web page can be made available in real-time in any of the 37 languages currently supported by Bing. In order to display Web pages in any of the available languages, Bing offers a free “widget” or small utility to place on the original page; this utility is available at microsofttranslator.com/widget and allows the user to select the desired language that for the Webpage. With this small widget placed on a Web page, the page immediately becomes available in more than three dozen different languages. Bing makes the widget code available by logging into Bing using any of the many Microsoft logon or registration methods, and then clicking on the “< >“ icon on the small “Translate This Page” box.

Using these translation services, I was able to quickly locate and read the technical data that I was looking for, even though it was in Portuguese and could not read the original Portuguese. These translating services may be beneficial for many users.

Listen to Ira Wilsker’s weekly radio show on Mondays from 6-7 p.m. on KLVI 560AM.

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