Tuesday, November 15, 2011

More tech tips for navigating through a foreign language

Hi Readers, 

Despite taking some private German lessons before arriving in Vienna, we basically came here with zero language knowledge.  Obviously, this can be a major obstacle as you pursue work permits, health care E-cards, and other required documentation through heavily bureacratic German language.

Luckily, there are some quick fixes to understanding foreign documentation and websites.  For us, we began by copying and pasting the German text we wanted translated into Google Translate.  Bear in mind, none of these translation devices are perfect.  
As an example, I typed the following cooking directions into Google Translate:
"8 Minuten schwack kochen lassen, ab und zu umrühren"

and voila the translation:
"Cook for 8 minutes Schwack off, stirring occasionally"

From this result, we can surmise:
1. Google translate doesn't know the word "schwack" in German.  This word may be important so I'll look it up in my dictionary (or Online Dictionary).

2. By cutting out the words which distract from overall meaning, we end up with some pretty comprehensible directions, namely:  "cook for 8 minutes, stirring occasionally"

An important lesson from this example, as will be true with the following translation methods, is even though you use a translation program, final editing for clarity remains your responsibility.

While searching through Gmail's settings I came across a tab called labs.  One lab, message translation, promised to translate email messages from German to English.  After enabling this, you can see a screenshot of what German email messages look like (see photo).  

I think this lab works by automatically importing the Google translate functionality into your email inbox.  The message arrives in German but after pressing the translate button embedded in the email, it is instantly translated in English.  I envisioned using this in several ways.  First and most obviously, it would translate emails that arrive in German.  In addition, I figured I could copy and paste sections of websites into an email "compose" window, email it to myself, and then use the translate feature.  In the end, I would not need this convoluted process in order to translate websites after I downloaded and installed Google Chrome.

Google Chrome has its own translation feature.  Whenever I open a German language website, a drop down bar offers to translate the site into English.  It also offers a "revert to original" button.  This is helpful because the one "bug" I've noticed in the Google Chrome translation feature is that, once translated, some of the websites "link words" lose their functionality.  That is to say, oftentimes I translate a website, find the link I need and then revert to original before clicking the link.  Sometimes the links work in the translated version, sometimes not.

As usual, all this technology leaves me with mixed emotions.  On the one hand, it is easier than ever to live in another country with limited to no language knowledge yet having the ability to decode a foreign language.  On the other hand, it can impede one's motivation to learn the foreign language.  

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