We’ll never get computers to understand language as deftly as humans do, with all the nuance and context-driven meaning. But that doesn’t stop us from trying. Free online language translation websites continue to get more sophisticated, providing free translation to and from English and other popular languages. Do you want to make your website available in a another language through a simple click? Maybe you need to translate a foreign language website into English? (I employ this option frequently when I have trouble discerning a Russian site.) Or perhaps you just want to compose an email to a pen pal and have it translated into his or her native language? While the syntax and grammar will not be perfect, you’ll be able to understand previously incomprehensible websites or make your own English writing comprehensible to non-English speakers.
Free online language translation is not without its challenges, of course. Because it uses automated programs rather than human brainpower to translate, problems can arise with idioms, syntax, and tone – among other things. Since you’re not paying for anything, though, you’ll have to accept some loss in meaning and some degree of misunderstanding. Nonetheless, free online language translation websites aid in basic comprehension. If you have more complex needs, most of the language translation websites reviewed here also offer professional translation services for hefty fees. After all, language may not be universal – but money sure is!
This site, like most others, offers free text translation through a cut-and-paste box and free web translation when you provide a URL. Two-way translation is available between English and the following languages: Spanish, French, German, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese, and Russian. I tested the English to French translation capabilities by translating my blog into French. While it automatically assumed a formal tone with the second person singular (even basic French speakers will know what I mean), the site did a decent job of making my thoughts accessible to French-only readers. One drawback to the website translator, though, is that it doesn’t stay in translation mode. Once you click a link on the translated page, it automatically reverts to the page’s original language unless you ask it to re-translate. The block text translator works fairly well, and it features an easy drop-down menu for adding special characters easily.
Babelfish provides text block website translation with a broader language selection. The more extensive
language translation choices include not only the Romance languages and Russian but also Korean, Japanese, and Greek. Some of these languages are also available for translation to each other – like Spanish to French. A “world keyboard” is available for entering Cyrillic letters and other special characters, but be warned: it’s a Java item that takes forever to load. It’s also not as user friendly as a simple drop-down menu or keyboard shortcut. Despite this frustration with the text translation engine, Babelfish redeems itself with some aspects of free website translation. For example, they make it easy to add translation to your current website by providing a simple html snippet that you can put into your blog (or any other site you maintain) to create a one-step translation for the language of your choice.
Applied Language offers the same options as Alta Vista, and the special character insertion for text translation is easier – no long-loading Java. This site did a superior job translating my blog into French and translating a Russian site into English. It’s far from perfect, of course, but it was better than I expected. They also offer an html addition for one-click translation, with a neat graphic telling users to simply click on the flag for their language of choice. Even cooler, though, is a free text translation box that you can add directly to your website. If you sign up (it’s free), they’ll email you the appropriate code so that users can translate blocks of text quickly. Why not add both? At first blush, I didn’t expect this free online language translation to be very good because the site design was so simplistic that it seemed rudimentary. But I was wrong!
All languages listed for translation at this site have two-way capability, a feature most other sites lack. But then again, how often do English speakers find themselves going directly from Italian to Korean? Probably the best feature of World Lingo is that it will send out emails on your behalf. Just type you message in your language and provide your correspondent’s home language and email address. World Lingo does the rest of the work and will even carbon copy your email with the message. This one feature sets it apart from the other free online language translation websites.
Google really is taking over the world. Come on, you *knew* Google had to provide free online language translation on top of its other stellar offerings. Just click on “language tools” on Google’s main page. You can also download the Google toolbar (if you don’t already have it) for one-step translation from English when you’re out there surfing non-English websites. The website translator works well because it stays in translation mode, allowing you to click on links and have the new pages appear automatically translated (so you don’t have to load a page and re-translate it every time). Those Google chaps are smart!