Monday, September 11, 2006

La La Language Tools

I adore google! It is my shrine, my meditation space and much more. It gave me the fastest search engine, the slowest email software and one quirky social network(orkut). Of late, I've become obsessed with being multilingual. (I suppose the plethora of Portugese posts in Orkut has something to do with it.) I have been picking up bits and pieces of French on the internet. My teacher? The innovative language translation tools created , so aptly, by the ever considerate folks at Google.
I had a vague idea on how French greetings were supposed to sound. I also knew how to count upto 10 in French, and also how to tell people my name. I left the rest to the language tools. However, and I say this with an unrealistic swelling pride, the first 'meaningful' French sentence I learnt was , 'Je pense donc je suis'. ( 'I think therefore I am' - Rene Descartes ) The language tools very diligently interpreted the sentence word by word to 'I think thus I am'. Unfortunately, for folks who don't take software with buckets of salt, language tools may be rather inappropriate.
Let's assume that I want to translate a sentence originally in English to French. I don't anticipate any trouble there, as the user interface is friendly enough. The translated sentence appears in the little box, and the user can read it out loud (assuming that the user has an idea of the phonetics of each language) . Next, let's assume that the user wants to translate the new sentence back to its original form (ie. in the language it was written in to start with). Surprise! The sentence you start with needn't be the one you end with. La La Language tools have goofed (or maybe I should say gaffed, some of the translations are rather embarrassing).
I am glad I didn't make my acquaintance with the shortcomings of language tools the hard way. Some perceptive individuals made it known in orkut. In an attempt to be less critical, the language tools are not meant to replace human interpreters. They are meant to give linguistically challenged folks a broad idea of the possible meaning of words written in an alien language. Let's give them the benefit of the doubt. Touche? You decide.

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