Like most of the new widgets coming out of Google on what seems like a daily basis, there was little in the way of fanfare. I made the discovery accidentally, in fact, when I happened to drop by there earlier this week. The front-page interface (linked above) looked the same, but I noticed eleven new languages — Arabic, Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Finnish, Hindi, Norwegian, Polish, Romanian, and Swedish. This brings Google’s total to a whopping 22 different languages, double what Babelfish offers (though Babelfish still offers two forms of Chinese script: traditional and simplified). It used to be that I had to resort to obscure sites for languages like Finnish and Polish. No longer!
But how accurate is it? For its more well-heeled languages, Google is pretty good. As I said above, clunky but serviceable. But for the newer ones, there are some significant problems. Testing out Hindi, I made quite an alarming discovery, in fact.
I don’t speak Hindi myself (though I am learning some from my friend Arun). He volunteered to help me check a few simple phrases. You can probably guess what I tried — the names of some of Tolkien’s books. Perhaps I thought to test these out in Hindi because there is, so far, no Hindi translation of The Lord of the Rings or even The Hobbit. For “The Lord of the Rings”, Google was right on: अंगूठियों का मालिक. But add a full-stop to the phrase, and Google tacks a है onto the end that simply shouldn’t be there. “The Two Towers” also had problems. In the translation suggested by Google, इस दो टॉवर, the first word you see there doesn’t belong; to get the correct translation, दो टॉवर, you have to strip the definite article off of the phrase you feed to Google. Finally, and this is the alarming discovery I mentioned: just try “The Fellowship of the Ring” — without hesitation, Google gives back: राजा की वापसी. What’s the problem? This actually means “The Return of the King” in perfect Hindi!
How could this have happened? My guess is that somebody used the feature where Google allows human beings to suggest their own “better translations” — but whomever supplied this one probably made a bad copy-paste. Tsk, tsk. The service is bound to improve, and it is free, but at the moment, it appears rather unreliable. My friend Arun helped me identify many problems with the Hindi, and I would suppose the other new languages have their share of beta problems as well. Perhaps other readers will test out the Scandinavian and Slavic additions. I know I’ve got Polish readers — how is it?