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4,787 views Apr 29, 2010
Translating "in the Clouds"
I just finished translating a novel entirely on Google Translate, all 350 pages of it.   I don't know if I am the first person to do so, but I am certain I won't be the last.
To translate with Google Translate, you'll need an electronic document, and that can be very difficult to obtain if you are working on a novel, as you don't see electronic copies of novels circulating as that would raise concerns of piracy.  So in order to get an electronic copy, I purchased a Kindle version of the book from Amazon, I downloaded the Kindle App both to my iPod and my computer on the Windows side.   When Amazon finally released Kindle App for Mac, I became one of the first to download that as well, therefore I got Amazon Kindle application everywhere.  The beauty about the Kindle App is that your reading progress is synched with their WhisperSync functionality.  Therefore no matter which device you use, your book will be turned to the same page through this automatic synching process.
Then I did something slightly crazy:  I did a screen capture of every page on the Kindle reader (zoomed to the appropriate size so that a scanning software can decipher it with not too many errors).   Then I used a scanning software to scan the captured screenshots into text.  Then I edited it into readable text, spell-checked and all that.  Then I saved it as  a text file, and uploaded it to Google Translate.  Then I bought myself a cup of coffee at Starbucks and I sighed a long sigh and I started to toil away.
This process had been going on for quite a while, and then I requested an electronic copy from the publisher, and I was given one, in PDF format.  It is still not possible to import it directly into Google Translate, so I copied and pasted the text into a Word file, removed all the line breaks and unnecessary spaces and any other weirdo symbols and signs, and then saved it as a Text file, which I then upload it to Google Translate.  Then coffee, sigh, translation.
Undoubtedly, preparing a document for translation takes tons of time.  Yet translation is a thought-intensive process.  I don't mind doing some drudge along the way just to take the mind off for a while.   Just remember, removing line breaks from text files is a good theraphy for a stressed-out translator.
There are quite a number of advantages of using Google Translate to translate:
1.  The original text and the translated text are laid out alongside each other.  It is really easy to find corresponding sentences.  Google takes you sentence by sentence through the translation, with the original text in yellow highlights and the target one in a pop-up window.  Translation of a particular sentence follows that particular sentence like a shadow.  Finding things in the two languages become tremendously easy.   I really enjoyed that. 
2. Psychologically, zooming in a book to a sentence creates an illusion (which is necessary) you are translating one sentence at a time.  It somehow reduces the stress of translation for me.  At my age, stress in life is a big deal.  Job, kids, wife, lawn, you name it.   I'd like to do anything to reduce it.  So chunking a book into smaller units helped, or so it seemed.
3.  It is pretty easy to make things consistent.  For instance, you want to check how you translated a particular term in some earlier passage and you don't remember where it is.   Google Translate can help you to find the original term and then the corresponding translation.  With older methods, it is very tough to find every occurrence of the same word or phrase AND the translation you used each time.  Google Translate made that possible.
4. Google Translate actually suggests translation for you using its automatic translation tool.  Most of such suggestions are useless for literary translation, but this is especially helpful for place and people names. Translating such into Chinese is such a drudge that it served as the chief motivator for me to consider using the application in the first place.  
5. Google Translate can probably reduce some unnecessary distraction as it brings dictionary, glossary, source text and target text all in one frame.   Often you do not need to go to other places online or in your computer to find what you need, and get sidetracked while doing so.  
6.  Google Translate liberates you from being stuck with a book.  As all your data is stored in the "cloud", you can take a laptop and work anywhere you want, as long as there is a computer and internet connection.  I often drive to work in my "third place", the Starbucks,  away from distractions of work or home.  But of course, whatever little money I made in translation I spent on gas for my car and coffee for brain.  Google Translate should claim responsibility for this kind of excesses.
7. Google Translate actually suggests translation of some phrases or words for you.  Most of the times I end up not using them, but sometimes it does get something right.    And it is pretty funny how Google sometimes overdo it.  I once found: Hey, Bo!  And Google Translate renders it into:  你好,薄熙来!
Here are the parts I don't like about Google Translate:  (I hope someone can tell me how to contact Google to report such problems.  Well, never mind, I'll google them out.)
1.  You cannot actually edit the source text once imported for translation, which often makes it useless as many text files contain symbols that need to be edited into meaningful words or punctuation.
2.  Glossary is a great concept and that's the reason I came to use Google Translate (place and people names especially), however, the Google Translate glossary function is next to useless.  It does not actually replace words or phrases for you even if you use the glossary.  It just highlights words and shows you what the translation is according to your glossary.  You still have to copy and paste the words or phrases into your translation every single freaking time.    
3.  You cannot add to the glossary on the fly.  You have to prepare a glossary ahead of time using Excel or Google Doc and import it.  Seriously, how many people in the world really work like that?  A really useful glossary tool should allow you to add entries as you work.   That would make worlds of differences for translators.
4. Google Translate does not handle certain punctuation very well.  For instance, it often changes apostrophes to question marks.   To make things worse, when you import it, Google Translate treats a qestion mark as the end of a sentence. So you have sentences like "I?" when you intend to import, say,  "I'll go there."  That chopped up normal sentences forward, backward and sideway and makes the translation difficult to revise.  The problem is less obvious when translating from Chinese to English.
Would I use the application again? 
It depends.  I will definitely use Google Translate for commercial translations or anything that has a lot of repetition or jargon in it.  Its memory function really helps.  But I probably will hesitate in using it for literary translation unless Google does something about the glossary.  
It is also helpful to translate bad writing with Google Translate, such as writings full of business jargons that MBAs, and consultants use.   Google Translate is especially good with empty talk and stupid nonsense.  Machine translation of course produces some nonsense of its own kind, but I call that dynamic equivalence.   Try it with the worst writing you found, and you might be pleasantly surprised  that Google Translate might even make the writing better than it actually is.   
Just give that to your boss and you can keep the change.
To prove what Google Translation does, here is the translation of this post from Google Translate.  I didn't change a single word of it: 
















3。您不能增加对飞行词汇。你必须准备一个词汇提前使用Excel或谷歌文档和导入它。严重的是,如何在世界上许多人真的这样做呢?一个真正有用的术语表工具应允许您添加条目,你的工作。这将使世界对翻译的差异。 4。谷歌翻译不能很好地处理某些标点符号。例如,它经常改变撇号为问号。更糟糕的是,当你导入它,谷歌翻译视为一个句子结束qestion标志。所以,你有喜欢的句子:“我?”当您打算进口,说:“我会去那里。”这切碎了一般的句子向前,向后和侧向,使翻译难以修改。问题是那么明显,从中国翻译成英文。





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