14 February, 2006

Translation quality

The quality of the translation of instruction manuals has been the brunt of jokes for years, particularly for items from South East Asia. The companies concerned appear to hand the work to any office junior who has a smattering of the target language to economise on the services of a professional translator. These same firms generally put much more effort into their publicity brochures. Obvious really.
Machine translation has also had jokes. You just feed some text into one of the many machine translation systems available on the web, and then use the same website to translate it back again. The result is often laughable.
That said, machine translation systems do have their uses.

Why all this intro? I've just come across a really badly translated website while researching a piece about surveillance techniques. The site in question provides a pay e-mail tracking service. The opening page automatically switches to a local language, or rather a semblance of it, presumably using the IP address or browser settings. So, in my case, it opens in French, with no button to override. Only the opening page is in French. But the French is so bad as to be barely understandable. We are invited to "Signe en haut pour votre Compte de Proc├Ęs Gratuit". Word for word replacement of "Sign up for a your free trial account" - effectively inviting me to sign at the top of the page to go to court free of charge. Similarly, the "about ReadNotfity" button is labeled "environ ReadNotify" - the suburbs of ReadNotify? The rest of the translation is no better. Less than a hundred words and almost as many mistakes!

But this is not an instruction mannual. It's a web site vying for customers. And a reasonably carefully and professinally designed web site. The extra cost of translating the handful of sentences on the start-up page would be peanuts.
I for one would be wary about handing over money to such a company.

The fact that there is no physical address or info on the company on the web site does nothing to inspire confidence either.