Working in language can get you into some sticky situations. Knee deep in a big translation project, you can’t afford to halt your workflow getting hung up on one strange colloquialism or antiquated trip of the tongue. Translators and linguists used to keep a dictionary always within arm’s reach, but alas, the days of the dictionary have long since passed. Now, online translation tools have replaced the dictionary. Many free translation tools pop up under a search query, but machine translation is no substitute for human translation.
As Pangeanic points out, “Regular users of translation services are aware that the logic and reasoning skills we as human beings are capable of bringing to their projects cannot be matched by computer programs. Machine translation is an enabler, a productivity enhancer.” So you have to be selective, and use them sparingly.
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That said, what free translation tools can you keep handy in your browser or bookmarks folder to ensure that you can find a solid, reliable machine translation when you need one quickly? Have a glance at these five free translation tools, all with their own distinguishing features, that can bail you out when you need to field dress your prose.
We put these online translation tools to the test with a slightly tricky quotation from J.W. von Goethe: "Die beste Bildung findet ein gescheiter Mensch auf Reisen." (The best education for a clever person is found in travel.)
Microsoft’s Bing is host to 61 languages, and makes it easy to search the web using your translation as a query. Also, using the experimental Try & Compare feature, you get two side by side translations with slight variations, and you can choose which is better.
PROMPT-Online’s translation tool has a back translation feature, which saves a step if you want to double check your results, which if you work in language, you probably do obsessively. This thoughtful feature shows they know their audience, and their AI’s grasp of Goethe’s poetic style holds up well.
This tool is a Chrome plugin, which distinguishes it from the other free translation tools. You don’t have to go searching for it in your browser. It’s always handy, sitting up in the menu tray and well within reach when you need a quick translation. With 74 languages, it also connects to an in-browser online translator. This free translation tool acknowledges the limits of its own accuracy as a way to direct you to a guaranteed 100% accurate human powered translation, should you have any bigger or more serious translation projects.
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imTranslator also has a helpful back translation option, and their translation of our Goethe quote is pretty solid. But the real winning feature here is the vintage Geocities / Windows 98 aesthetic, a probably-unintentionally-stylish touch that makes for a fun browse.
Linguee functions more as a word-to-word dictionary, just like the one you used to keep on your desk, which makes it unique it on this list. It gives several meanings and synonyms to which your word could translate. However, if you do type in a sentence, it will outsource your query and provide a multitude of third party results for you to compare, with links to the external sources. This makes it a very comprehensive tool.
Ready, Set, Go With These Free Translation Tools!
Now you know where to start; let’s see where you end up with these free translation tools in your kit! With resources like the above, no translator or linguist ever needs be stranded in a swamp of text. Put them to the test and settle into your favorites--they’ll soon become a regular part of your lexicon. Machine translations may not be perfect enough yet to handle Goethe, but that’s where you come in. Did you bookmark these tools in your browser yet?