Friday, October 24, 2008

Lost in translation

Despite all the e-meeting tools available today it is still refreshing to attend some "real life" meetings now and again! I spoke at a seminar in Gdansk this week and had the chance to get some interesting insights into the state of e-learning there and make a few new contacts that wouldn't have been so easy over the net.

The key to being able to get so much out of the seminar was the fact that my hosts provided me with an interpreter, the first time I've had that sort of service. As a result I could follow everything despite the obvious language gap. As far as I could make out my interpreter kept up with the speakers with possibly only a second or two delay. Even if I do quite a lot of translation work I take my hat off to simultaneous interpreters who must need remarkable levels of concentration.

My own multi-tasking capability fell well short of the mark as I realised that I couldn't make notes whilst listening to both the speaker and the interpreter. The extra speaker seemed to paralyse my ability to write.

Will we ever have automatic simultaneous interpretation? Plenty work is being done but I feel we're a long way from giving professional interpreters any cause for job insecurity. Google Translate offers to translate texts or whole web pages between about 34 languages and seems to do a relatively good job. It's not always grammatically correct but you get the gist and some sentences do turn out right. However idiomatic language is tough and I wonder if we'll ever have a tool that can cope. Try this text on it and see if you get an acceptable result.

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