Getting a sentence translated from your mother tongue - you might be a Japanese, Russian, or Portuguese speaker - into a foreign language - do I hear Spanish, English, or German? - is almost as complicated as this sentence!

It could be a short phrase, long phrase, or paragraph, either way, this can take quite some time without the help of an online translator or apps like Google Translate.

You could even need to consult a dictionary if a word in your text is hard to identify culturally.

Technology and online English tools make learning English easier and easier, with phrases and translations even able to be given with a human voice  to match pronunciation.

The best thing about so many of similar such platforms is they're free!

Why might online translation platforms be useful then? What are the pros and cons?

  1. It saves time: students won't have to spend heaps of time in front of a dictionary, searching by context for their word - an online translator can work in seconds, and offers a response that features all the different pragmatic contexts for lexicon
  2. Ease of use: tools have features that don't require any practice to use since the websites are very easy to navigate around.
  3. Dozens of languages available: a translation can be done into most major world languages, and will have features like community reviews so you know the online translator is reliable.
  4. The vast majority are free!
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Google Translate

The stalwart, Google Translate is the biggest and oldest online translation tool out there, with its technology becoming increasingly advanced.

Known for its efficiency and community reviews, you can rely pretty well on the more heavily translated languages like German, French, Spanish, Japanese, Russian, Portuguese, and of course English.

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Translate.google.com.au will take you exactly where you need to be. Just type in the word or phrase you want to translate in the left-hand box, which then generates a non human translation in the right-hand box.

Let's try an English sentence into French:

Use Google Translate as a tool to learn English!
Shorter or simple sentences are efficiently managed on Google Translate (Source: www.translate.google.com.au)

Doing online translations like this offer a good lesson for understanding the complications that can arise when you use phrases rather that just a word or two.

A simple phrase like this is correct down to the spelling, vocabulary, grammar.

But it gets more complicated when it comes to a longer phrase:

Google translate is not great for long phrases to learn English
So, Google Translate is not always correct! (Source: www.translate.google.co.uk)

Because the base language (English) is being use to dictate the grammar rules of the target language (French), several things get lost in translation. 

Remember, you will find that there are both pros and cons to translating chunks of text with online translation servers and apps!

Android devices support it well, as do iOS, but Android typically runs Google Translate better given that Google make their devices to run on the Android operating system.

The good news about this is that it's free on Google, Android, and Apple devices alike, and offers the same features and reviews.

So keep a translation app or apps on your phone ready to go if you need a quick simple translation, but more complex translations should probably still rely on online, app, or device based dictionaries.

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Linguee

Linguee has been online since the early 2000s and is available in many languages - German, French, Portuguese, English, Spanish, Japanese, Russian - you name it, they've got it. 

And another perk is that matching pairs of translation origin and target languages that are somewhat rarer are present, and give approximate context matches for sentence translations rather than just word by word.

Online Translators are always great to obtain quick translations
Use Linguee to obtain quick and precise translations (Source: www.linguee.com)

How does it work?

Linguee is one of the most unique translation tools, since it employs a search engine which permits access to hundreds of translated source texts, hence how it offers contexts for you to practice your foreign language understanding.

These are manifested in sentence pairs, and are drawn from real life texts, meaning you can break out of the classroom mentality.

It also tends to be much more accurate than Google Translate since it pulls up translations which are already translated by a native speaker of the target language too - in other words, it's translation memory.

See below an example of the interface on the website:

Linguee is perfect if you're a translation student
An example of all the different translations Linguee can come up with, the first ones are normally the most precise (Source: www.linguee.com)

Something to note about Linguee is that a long text will not work as with other sites - you're limited to 12 words at a time.

 

Linguee is not great for long translations
Linguee only allows you to add a maximum of 12 words at a time (Source: www.linguee.com)

 

This is however arguably to most accurate way to translate, as you focus on a specific context.

 

Linguee is not always great to translate long paragraphs
The paragraph has not been translated, only a few of the words have (Source: www.linguee.com)

 

If it's vocabulary practice you're wanting, then Linguee is your go to site. It also qualifies translations in order of rarity, specifying other translations you're less likely to encounter.

The perfect blend between a translator and bilingual dictionaries, n'est-ce pas?

Have a look at the best online English courses.

 

If you're looking to translate vocabulary, visit Linguee to get a variety of translations
Linguee is excellent for translating vocabulary (Source: www.linguee.com)
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Bing Translator

A well known (distant second) search engine to Google, Bing is nevertheless capable of translating single vocabulary words, yet suffers the same fate as Linguee with its 12 word limit.

The human voice reception and reproduction features are noteworthy, since you don't ever even have to type.

Bing does have more or less exactly the same features as Google Translate, including the famous "translate this page" and community reviews features, which in practice will give you the same outcomes in your courses regardless of which tools, website, app / apps, or dictionaries you use to complement your search.

Bing allows the user to translate phrases as well as an entire web page by using the "Translate this page", but this is not nearly as accurate as a human translator. It does not take into consideration the context, whereas Linguee does.

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Bing is perfect if you're looking to translate into English from your mother tongue and vice versa
By using its "auto-detection", Bing is aware that the language is English (Source: www.bing.com/translator/)

Very similar in interface to Google, and just as good on Android and Apple, the left to right box format and language auto-detect features are highly useful.

Systran

Systran has a range of perks on offer, including translation into the Queen's of course!

Translation students prefer this site due to its accuracy, but a site like Linguee remains more preferable for phrasal blocks of text.

Systran is great for translating short and snappy phrases
Translating expressions does not prove to be easy for Systran (Source: www.systran.com)

In the above image, the main issues are that, while correct, and bearing a high likelihood that your interlocutor will understand you if you spoke like this, the register is default formal and there are particular vocabulary related issues, namely in the choice of prepositions and directly translated words.

And so it goes when you're dealing with an online algorithm rather than a human.

A real plus of Systran is the business and computer science dictionary that comes built in, not to mention that you can add your own dictionary based on a lexicon that you're interested in. 

Beyond this, you can also add new-age words like "iMessage" which don't have an entry yet.

 

Systran is great for vocabulary translations
Throw away your paper dictionary and turn to Systran for an accurate translation and definition! (Source: www.systran.com)

This website also has old faithful - the translate an entire web page function. 

If you accidentally ended up on Superprof FR rather than AU by accident for instance, to find out where you need to be, just copy and paste the link of the page you're on into the box and click "translate", which will then open you up a new tab with the translated version.

Conclusion

The thing to bear in mind is that online translations with apps and websites aren't always correct - they use an algorithm, so use your human discretion to circumvent this.

This becomes especially apparent when you move from translating a single word into translating whole sentences, so be sceptical before assuming it's precise.

Translators nevertheless really do get us out of some sticky situations, and you can save yourself hours looking for a niche dictionary entry or situation specific phrase.

Linguee is truly the front runner in that it acknowledges the above points - the speaker needs to put a little work in too.

It approximates contexts and can give you the most effective and efficient one for what you need in your target language - YOU just need to know which it is based on your source language.

Nowadays, online translation tools aren't that accurate. However, with the help of technology, they are improving daily.
Will technology overtake human translators one day? Source Via Visual Hunt

With the exception of the "translate this page" feature therefore, don't expect translation tools to be up to the task of processing whole texts just yet.

For near 100% precision, it's best to stick to phrases of less than 12 words.

To keep up to date with language technology and global English, take a peek at these podcasts for learning English. You might also find English tutors and ESOL classes handy. Also bear in mind that you can find hundreds of English conversation lessons online too.

For those still wanting face to face lessons, search English courses in Melbourne or Sydney, or likewise in another city throughout Australia with Superprof tutors.

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