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Friday, June 22, 2007

A New Google Dictionary

The Google Translator has a new feature: a dictionary to translate words. This complements the existing “translate text” box, but is (apparently) optimized for single-word queries, and it also adds some related phrases to results. At this time translations are available between English and French, German, Italian, Korean and Spanish. Chinese and other languages available in Google’s “translate text” feature are missing here. (Interestingly enough, the English - German dictionary translation is in Beta, Google says, even though a non-Beta version is used in the “translate text” tab; perhaps this is one of Google’s in-house machine translation efforts?)

Results are often good but not always. I tried to translate “global warming” from English to German, for instance, and the top result was “Erwärmung,” which doesn’t mean “global warming” but just “warming.” However, some of the related phrases Google suggested came closes to the target (though none of them mentioned the German word “Erderwärmung”). Also, the dictionary simply doesn’t contain certain words; trying to translate “wacko” into German finds nothing, whereas e.g. the existing LEO online translator finds two results for this in German.

Some of the dictionaries also seem to have problems with American vs British English spelling. For instance, Google wasn’t able to translate “color” from English into German, outputting a simple “No translation was found.” After changing the spelling to the British “colour,” correct translations like “Färbung” or “Farbe” were offered. The exact opposite is true when you pick English to French translation; here, you are required to provide the American spelling, “color” to yield results, as a commenter at the Google Operating System blog mentions.

Also, the translator does not use the Google spellchecker to remind you of spelling problems. This would be very useful here, because when you misspell something, it won’t find the translation, and you’ll be left unsure if that’s because there was a typo, or the dictionary is missing your word.

While some basic words can’t be found, Google’s related phrases feature often offers a great range of fitting proverbs. Entering “dogs” in an English - German translation I get (besides the wrong translation “Windhundrennen,” which means grayhound racing [update: see the comments for more on this.]), among others:


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