How many times have you encountered foreign words and phrases that you want to know the meaning of? A dictionary is useful but how many people keep several dictionaries for foreign languages? How many times have you used the many free translations services available on the web and end up getting more frustrated because the resulting translation is more unintelligible than ever? Did you just scratch your head and utter, “What is this”? Or did you just let out a very deep sigh and moved on?
It is frustrating isn’t it? You expect that you’ll be able to at least get a basic understanding of the meaning of the sentence or phrase in a foreign language that you’ve just encountered. Since this is the age of advanced computer intelligence and the machine translation service is readily available, it is safe to think that it must be good.
With the increasing popularity of Korean dramas outside of Korea and Asia, most international drama fans now get the chance to enjoy them, as these dramas are available on streaming sites, subbed in several languages. The subs are done courtesy of international subbers/translators, native speakers, who themselves are fans of these dramas. They are not professional translators, though. They are just fans who dedicate their time to provide the translations in other languages because they like doing it and because they enjoy the drama they are watching and want other people to watch and understand them as well. There are actually several communities or groups of dedicated subbers out there right now. There are also several forums where international fans interact, discuss, make comments, post images, behind-the-scenes, upload written and video previews of upcoming episodes and add anything related to the drama and the drama’s cast.
In most cases, the most popular dramas are discussed in forums, started by a fan and joined in by other fans from around the globe. Some of the drama threads can be very active, with forum pages reaching thousands, while others may have several hundred pages while the drama is airing and continue to add new pages as new drama watchers find the drama/s interesting.
Broadcast studios normally post upcoming episode previews days before the scheduled telecast, and fans pick this up and post the written preview, which is of course in Korean, in the forum. Oftentimes, one regular forum poster will provide the translation for the preview.
For this article, let us take the currently airing drama, A Hundred Year Inheritance. This is being discussed at Soompi.com, a site dedicated to Asian dramas, variety shows, lifestyle, music and more.
The text preview of an episode was posted in Korean and it looks like this:
"주말특별기획 [백년의 유산] 47회
방송일자 : 2013년 06월 15일 21시 55분 ~ 23시 15분
춘희는 채원와 세윤의 행복을 위해 독한 마음을 먹고 팽달네를 떠난다.
방회장은 주주들과 투자자들, 채권단들 앞에서 경영진 사퇴 발표를 한다.
방회장은 남은 자금으로 사업을 다시 시작해보려 하지만,
모든 돈을 맡겼던 변호사가 외국으로 도주한다.
팽달은 끝순과 함께 치과에 다녀오는 길에 혼절한다.
팽달과 함께 병원에 간 끝순은 팽달이 췌장암 말기라는 것을 알게 되는데..."
One regular poster normally translates the previews weekly. And this is the actual human translation.
When the translations are posted, almost all the posters in the thread send thank you messages to the translator. But there are times when the translator cannot post translations of previews due to her personal and work commitments.
At times like that, the scenario will definitely be different. Taking a cue from that, let us have the Korean text translated by Google Translate. The English translation came out like this:
"Weekend Special [One Hundred Years of Heritage] 47 times
Broadcast Date: June 15, 2013 21:55 to 23:15
Chaewonwa seyun Dame aux camelias for the happiness of the heart to eat poisonous leaves dalne Fang.
Meeting room shareholders and investors, creditors, management, front of the presentation will resign.The president left the room again to fund business start haeboryeo but All the money entrusted to the lawyer fled to foreign countries.
Paengdal kkeutsun with a trip to the dentist is on the way honjeol.
I went to the hospital with paengdal kkeutsun know that the end of the pancreatic cancer which paengdal ..."
To see the difference with other free machine translation available online, the same text was run through Bing Translator and this is what it was translated into:
"Special weekend planning [one hundred years of heritage] 47 times
Broadcast date: 2013-06-15 21: 55 ~ 23: 15 pm
Choon-Hee is a vegetable garden and eats hearts leap for the happiness of the grim leaving four months of swelling.
President of the shareholders and investors, the room, in front of executives announced the resignation from creditors. President of the Fund for the rest of the room business trying to restart, but Take all the money, saying the lawyers should escape to a foreign country.
Fang on the way back to the dentist with end-of-month order Horn clauses.
Fang went to the hospital to end with the Moon sterling silver Fang are terminally ill with pancreatic cancer this month found out that ..."
To be fair, here’s the translation done by IM Translator, another free translation service available on the web, and this used the Babylon translation system:
"A hundred years of the weekend series. Legacy ] 47 episodes
Date: June 15, 2013 21:55 - 23:15
Chun Yoon-hee-Chae-won and for the happiness of other fermented had to leave Fang four months.
Chairman room of shareholders, creditors and investors are in the presence of executives to leave the announcement.
The remaining room, chairman of the business to fund start again,
all the money entrusted foreign lawyers fled.
At the end of the month, followed by a tight with a good joke on the way to the dentist v. soul.
With Moon Fang at the hospital soon, at the end of the month, the Jospin pancreatic cancer learned that at the end of it ..."
This service also provides back translations as well. However, when ran again using the same system, this is what came out:
"weekend series of hundreds of years. 47 episode legacy ] Date: JUNE 15 -:15 11:55 PM 2013 - won 21 four-month leave Fang took effect, for the happiness of other former Yun-hee. Chairman of the shareholders, creditors and investors in front of the executives of the announcement to shut up. The rest of the room, and the representative of the business, and all money entrusted foreign lawyers met with his. At the end of this month, just on the way to the dentist, a good joke, backwards"
The translations using the free online service can give you loads of laughter because there will be times that it could be so absurd. Other times you will feel the same frustrations felt by the drama fans that are not be satisfied with a translation that they could not understand like the original text. It can make your head ache trying to decipher what the translation means, just like those avid drama fans.
Still you should not totally write off these free machine translation services. These can provide you with instant translations, but more effectively when what you want to translate in any foreign language are individual words or one or two short sentences. You can use that to impress your friends or understand a word or two of messages sent by your online friends. For sure there is a future for these machine translations, but not now.
Translations done by humans are still irreplaceable. Most human translators are native speakers and have the innate capability to understand the language better, the nuances and deeper meaning of its grammar, syntax, lexicon and slang, as well as regional and dialectal differences. These, at least right now, cannot be programmed into a machine.
In defense of machine translation
According to Google Translate, its grammar and vocabulary, aside from the input from its developers are continuously built up by translation requests from international users, from which their system captures various grammar formats and styles and new words and phrases. This is how the system is able to provide translations. It captures and stores all translation requests and as one language continues to be used, the resulting translation gradually becomes more understandable. The situation is the same with Bing Translator.
IMTranslator includes a waiver in their website. It says that their translation is able to produce “reasonable results in most cases.” To quote them, the waiver also states that the “quality of the machine translation cannot be compare to translations delivered by the professional translation services.”
So next time, when you need something translated by a machine, prepare yourself for the unexpected. Do not expect too much and prepare to be entertained. At the same time remember that even high-tech systems can still fail.
Kamsahamnida. Annyeong. Another important reminder: You cannot get a translation for something that has been Romanized such as the two words at the beginning of this paragraph, which means “thank you” and “goodbye.” You can only have translations of most Asian languages that are written in specific Asian characters.