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Link of the Week: Google Translate

One of Google’s many boons to foreign reporting has been its Google Translate service. There are several ways to access it. Google searches, for example, include a “Translate” link for any website that’s detected as being in a foreign language. And if you use Google Toolbar in your browser, it will put a ‘Translate’ control bar at the top of any page you visit that’s detected as being in a foreign language (including some that aren’t really foreign).

If neither of those cases apply to you, you can just go to the Google Translate page and type the URL of the foreign language website into the text box. Pick the source language (or let Google figure it out automagically) and your language, and POW, you have what’s usually a pretty good machine translation of the material. You can also type free-form text into the box (‘Where is the bathroom?’) and Google will translate that (‘Waar is de badkamer?’), adding a handy ‘Listen’ button so you can hear the pronunciation.

All this convenience and power comes with one big red-flag caution: It’s still a machine translation, which means it works well on simple, straightforward phrases, but is terrible at translating slang, idiom, and cultural context.

In the journalistic context, that means you can use Google Translate (or other machine translators) to get the gist of a foreign-language article and decide whether to pursue it further. But if you want to use any facts or quotes, machine translation isn’t good enough. For that, you’ll still (as of this writing) need to find a real, live fluent speaker of the language to translate it for you.

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