We’ve all used Google Translate at some point. It’s free, fast, and provides a generally accurate translation (most of the time) of a word, sentence, or paragraph that we come across in another language. While it’s not 100% accurate, especially for larger blocks of text or some specific languages, it can provide you with a general meaning of a given foreign language text.
While we’re all familiar with what Google Translate does, some of us may not be as familiar with how Google Translate works. Let me sum up:
Google Translate works using statistical machine translation (SMT), where computers analyze millions of existing translated documents from the web to learn vocabulary and look for patterns in a language. Google Translate then picks the most statistically probable translation when asked to translate a new bit of text.
However, Google Translate didn’t always work this way. Initially, it used a rule-based system, where rules of grammar and syntax, along with vocabulary for each language, were manually coded into a computer. Google switched to SMT because it enables the service to improve itself as it combs the web adding to its database of text — as opposed to linguists having to identify and code new rules as a language evolves. This provides a much more accurate translation, as well as saving thousands of programming/linguist man-hours.
So, now that you know the basic background of how Google Translate works and where it’s roots come from, here are a few more Translate fun facts you might not know:
- Google Translate was introduced in 2006 supporting only English and Arabic, but can currently translate 64 languages.
- With such broad linguistic support, Google Translate’s services have increased tenfold in the last three years, and now process hundreds of millions of translations every day.
- Got friends from foreign lands you like to GChat with? Add a chatbot to the conversation for every language involved, and you can each type in your native tongue while the bot translates the text in real-time.
- Translate makes getting around abroad easier with its Android app’s speech-to-speech translation in conversation mode… as long as you’re in Western Europe, Asia, or the Middle East (it only supports 14 languages at present)
- If you’ve got a translation you know isn’t quite right, let Google know with the “Contribute a better translation” feature. Translate’s engineers use that feedback to target specific problems in Translate’s operation.