Computer Translation

One of my students wanted to write an English translation  of an interview she found in a magazine, and not an easy one at that. Her final translation came to seven pages, and she asked me to check it. “Sure, no problem, let me have a look” I agreed.

Although this student’s English level is pretty high, when it came to translation, she threw her conversational ability out the window and reverted to the direct-translation method that all Japanese are taught in junior and high schools. The result was a stuttered and sometimes incomprehensible article.

The icing on the cake was that for a few of the most difficult paragraphs, she had used an online translation tool such as Babel Fish, and for those parts I was completely lost. Any sense I had made of the article so far was replaced by total confusion. Realizing she had used a translation tool, I asked her to come and look at the computer in the waiting room. I pulled up Babel Fish ( and asked her to type any sentence in Japanese. She chose ‘mou aki desu’. I asked her to tell me what she thought that was in English and she said correctly, “It’s already autumn”. So then I asked her to type the Japanese into the translation box on the screen and when we converted it to English we saw “Already fall is”. Converting this back to Japanese resulted in a sentence similar to “Already there is falling.”

This little experiment was an eye-opener for her, and hopefully in the future she won’t be so dependant on such software. Before I wrap this post up, I thought I’d do a special experiment just for you readers.

Here’s a paragraph from the ‘About’ page of this site:

I first came to Japan after finishing university in 1997. My first three months was a homestay-type arrangement with the family of a Japanese friend I had back in the U.K. The following year, after getting my teaching certification, I came back to Japan and have been here ever since.

If I put that paragraph into Babel Fish, convert it into Japanese, and then back to English, we get this. Enjoy!

I finished in 1997 and first came to Japan after the university. My first 3 months were the homestay type rearrangement to which series of the Japanese friend who in me has the back section in England has been attached. After obtaining the proof of my professor, the following year, I return to Japan, after that it was here.

If you like, you can find me on Twitter at @nick_ramsay. I'd love to hear from you!

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