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Machine Translations

The art and science of translation to or from Thai, with examples

Moderator: acloudmovingby

Machine Translations

Postby David and Bui » Mon Oct 31, 2011 12:13 pm

Slate magazine has just published a good article on the art of machine translations, focusing on Google Translate:

http://www.slate.com/articles/technolog ... es_be.html

Does this have any implications on the way we learn Thai? Thanks.
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Re: Machine Translations

Postby pensive » Mon Oct 31, 2011 2:23 pm

Not really a discussion of machine translation. At all. Just an add for Google, I think.

But I must say I have been thinking about GT since that German person (pi_choen?) in these forums tried a few German sentences in GT. Apparently GT handles phrases really well, but has a lot of difficulty constructing grammatical sentences. I don't know how Google can address that.

Meanwhile, how is Glenn doing? If one can parse for semantic meaning and then output that meaning in another language, that would seem to be a powerful thing. I think there will have to be a nexus between Google and the traditional translation method.
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Re: Machine Translations

Postby lumdam » Mon Oct 31, 2011 9:45 pm

The hyperbolic subtitle, the implication that Google Translate has anything to do with strong AI, and pretty much the whole article sounds like it's straight from a marketing department. Not much technical content.

Google Translate is useful for some closely related languages and a lot of hard work has clearly gone into it. But with English->Thai, I'm underwhelmed and find dictionary lookups much more useful. Since Google Translate is useless even for a total beginner like me, it definitely has a long way to go before it will affect the way people learn Thai. Sometimes it's so absurdly off it's amusing.

Here's a fun one: "เรียนภาษาไทย" -> "Learning English". To be fair, clicking "English" does give "Thai" as an alternative translation, but...
http://www.type-thai.com/
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Re: Machine Translations

Postby David and Bui » Mon Oct 31, 2011 10:00 pm

Lumdam,

Thanks for your comment. Your reaction is precisely why I posted the reference. Most of our participants on this forum are native English speakers or Europeans whose English is as excellent as that of a native speakers. New students of Thai often bring their English-speaking backgrounds and anticipate that sounds, sentence structure, and modes of expression in Thai will mirror those in English.

The difficulty that Google Translate finds with Thai <> English translation is a function of two factors: both the wide gulf in expression between the two languages and the paucity of dual-language material in the Cloud.

Those of us who struggle with Thai still have to do the hard work of comprehension and memorization without many mechanical shortcuts. On the other hand, those of you who are accomplished linguists -- and there are many of you, especially the Europeans -- do have a good appreciation of language diversity and how Thai differs from our European-based languages.

Any thoughts?
David in Houston
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Re: Machine Translations

Postby Rick Bradford » Tue Nov 01, 2011 2:38 am

Google Translate is interesting as a new paradigm of Machine Translation compared with earlier methods.

The major early MT projects such as Systran, were rule-based and analytic. Every time Systran made a mistake, another rule had to be added to cater for the new situation. (It was a bit cleverer than that, but that was the basis).

Now, with the huge corpus of multiple-language texts available online, Google can take the simple approach of saying "When I saw this bit of text before, how was it translated?"

The method has changed from external rule imposition to non-rule internal pattern matching.

But both methods struggle more with English <-> Thai than with English <-> German.
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Re: Machine Translations

Postby buckjoy » Tue Nov 01, 2011 11:23 am

I often use google translate to get a quick gist of an article from Thai to English. After it's translated, as you run your cursor over the English, the program will show the respective Thai for that phrase.
I also use it as an on-line dictionary....super fast translations of English words to Thai.
It's far from perfect, but we can hope it'll get better over time.
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Re: Machine Translations

Postby Tgeezer » Tue Nov 01, 2011 3:13 pm

buckjoy wrote:I often use google translate to get a quick gist of an article from Thai to English. After it's translated, as you run your cursor over the English, the program will show the respective Thai for that phrase.
I also use it as an on-line dictionary....super fast translations of English words to Thai.
It's far from perfect, but we can hope it'll get better over time.

My goodness I am amazed :o I have never seen such a thing. I have just tried it and it really works, a very fast dictionary. Thanks a lot.
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Re: Machine Translations

Postby Rick Bradford » Wed Nov 02, 2011 4:14 am

I've been playing with Google Translate a bit this morning, and my first impression is that its English->Thai capability is better than its Thai->English.

I'd be interested to know how a native Thai speaker views it; there could easily be some cognitive bias in my appraisal.
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Re: Machine Translations

Postby Tgeezer » Wed Nov 02, 2011 7:03 am

Rick Bradford wrote:I've been playing with Google Translate a bit this morning, and my first impression is that its English->Thai capability is better than its Thai->English.

I'd be interested to know how a native Thai speaker views it; there could easily be some cognitive bias in my appraisal.

On the subject of translation; a lady asked me what 'transite' meant, no context given, I corrected her spelling told her using words including กำลังเดินทาง, ออกจากจุดหนึ่งยังไม่ถึงอีกจุดหนึ่ง etc.
When I related the story to a Thai, I was told I was wrong, it meant changeing planes at an airport. My explanation that one might be going by road, was cut off with the argument winning 'คนไทยไม่ใช้' .
So apparently it was not an English speaker the lady wanted but a Thai. :roll:
This could explain why T/E is easier; Thais easily adapt to English and claim it as their own. Perhaps what we have in GT is Thai words replacing the English words and vice versa and not acceptable to Thais but they can put up with it.

I tried some Thai, it is a saying but not too difficult. ทำคุณบูชาโทษ โปดสัตว์ได้บาป one at a time and together and it didn't stand a chance, it had 'sin' only I think.
I have played around a bit and don't think I shall use it other than as a dictionary. I think that it has lots of potential to ruin the chance of acquiring the language.

8-)
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Re: Machine Translations

Postby bifftastic » Wed Nov 02, 2011 8:34 pm

I think that Google's dream of everyone buying their software and speaking to each other via their smartphones like some kind of Star Trek universal translator is just that, a dream.

I would say that GT would be useful as a dictionary, but once it comes into contact with, for example, the use of personal pronouns in Thai, it doesn't stand a chance! How would the software know if the intended meaning was "I went to....wherever" or "he/she/we went to..." If it offers up all the different possibilities, the intended meaning of the translated sentence would still not be clear, which is, after all, the whole point of translation isn't it?

That doesn't even start to take into account the contextual problems, idioms, two words joined together that mean something different when they are joined (as the fact that there are fewer spaces in Thai would, presumably trip it up) and so many other factors that just don't happen when translating between languages which have their Latin and Greek origins in common.

I'm not saying that it can't happen at some point in the future, but from what I've seen of it so far, it's got a very long way to go before Google can say, with any degree of confidence, that GT can cope with Thai and other Asian languages.

How well does it perform with say, Arabic? Yoruba? Xhosa?

If it can tackle English to 'every other language' (an enormous feat in itself!) how will it then move on to Arabic to Yoruba translations, for instance?

I don't think that there's a real substitute for actually learning a language, I don't think that such a 'universal translator' is even a desirable phenomenon. Part of learning a language is learning about why it's different, how the people who speak it form their ideas into a communicable form, that's not something I really want my iphone to do for me!
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