I ran across a web based chat tool called MeGlobe (http://www.meglobe.com) that claimed to be a type of universal translator. I tell it what my native language is and then I can talk to almost anyone, almost anywhere in the world. I wanted to kick these wheels a bit so I put out a note asking if anyone in my network spoke a language other than English fluently.
Dr. Gina Miele, a faculty member in our Italian department here at MSU, agreed to create an account and indicate her native language as Italian.
The user interface was a bit confusing at first. After a few minutes both Gina and I figured out how to add each other on our friends list. I send along my first IM but it did not pop up automatically for her. She had to click on my name in order to see the IM.
The translations were not particularly good, and I’ll get to that in a second. I’d rather focus on what I saw as one of the really good things. The program allows you to edit the responses that are provided. If Gina and I were only IMing, and she didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Italian, this would have been no use. However, since Gina speaks both languages and we were on the phone with each other that the same time, it was possible for us to correct the translation.
I like the fact that the translation can be updated. It useful in the case we set up above. Otherwise, this is a hybrid between an IM client and a translation program life Babblefish, it’s almost like Babblechat.
The first time we fixed the translation and tested the same phrase, it worked. The second time we tried that, it didn’t work – it gave us the same wrong translation it had given us before. In fact, one time, I spelled a word wrong and when the translation came back, it came back with the word misspelled. So, like Wikipedia, where people can update information and it does not necessarily have to be totally accurate, the same is true here. So now we’re looking at Babblechatapedia. Our big question from this was, are these changes and updates universal or only to our conversation. So, in other words, if Gina wrote Ciao, Bella, and I decided to tell the system that this meant “Your breathe smells”, and we corrected it enough times, would others see it?
From what Gina was telling me, the translation used the wrong “person” many times is very formal and often mistranslated word that can have multiple meanings (like “live” as in what city as opposed to “live” as in, “live it up”). It also didn’t get colloquialism at all, but that is to be expected.
All in all, it translated with a good accuracy about 7% of our IMs (no including repeats) and with understandable accuracy about 15%. Now, there is a caveat. The English to Italian translation was not horrific. As Gina said “someone in Italy could understand the translation. They might chuckle at the word choices, poor sentence structure and incorrect grammar, but they would understand.” The Italian to English translation was bad, and sometime so bad that it was unintelligible.
Not wanting to end on a sour note, Gina and I both agreed that this is a great step forward, albeit it has a long way to go. This is working toward becoming a very useful tool and when the accuracy gets better, I’d love to test it with one of our language courses.
As a final note, they have a really cool clock on the top of the page with a drop down menu that has lots of cities around the world. So you can pick a city and the clock will change to show you what time it is in that city. Not only with the time change, but the clock is white during the daylight house and black during the nighttime hours. Great touch. Keep up the good work, MeGlobe, a work in progress but a good start.