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  1. #1
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    Value of (Google) translation

    In the past few weeks, in my capacity as an English language consultant at a Thai university, I've had a couple of instances that have raised my concern about the use of internet translation programs (I think they all involved Google). Two were in academic contexts and one was in a domestic situation.

    The first one involved a Thai PhD student asking me to edit an academic paper as the final part of his program (defence of proposal done, research done, thesis done, just needed a publication in an international journal to complete the program). I found it very difficult to edit the paper and asked the student to come to my office to explain certain issues. I asked him who wrote the paper in English and he told me that he'd written it in Thai and then submitted it to Google translation. The paper may have been excellent in Thai but it was nonsense in English. I suggested certain ways that he may make it more acceptable in English and now await his response.

    The second instance involved a translation of an administrative document about curriculum as part of the university's attempt to have all information in English (and Thai) in preparation for ASEAN in 2015. I found it difficult to understand part of the translation as I checked the English and asked the person who had done the translation to come to my office to explain certain parts. I asked this person who had done the translation and she replied that she had done it with the assistance of Google translation. Again, some sections were difficult to understand but, with her sitting beside me, we were able to work out a reasonable compromise.

    In the domestic situation, I asked my partner's daughter to show me the Google translation working on her laptop so I could see what comes up when Thais put in Thai words. She is presently going through the (ridiculous, time- and money-consuming) exercise of interviews for government jobs and, in response to my request about the title in Thai of the job that she wanted, she entered the Thai word. The English translation was 'almoner.' I said that I had never heard of that word, went to my dictionary and found that there was such a word (look it up for yourself).

    With the increase in Thais (and other nationalities) aspiring and getting degrees at master and doctorate levels and the requirement to satisfy a certain competency in English in these programs, I assume that the use of such translation programs is going to increase.

    I make no comment at this stage on the effect of such translation programs on the English competency of the students or the quality of the graduating students.

  2. #2
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    professional translators have nothing to fear from google .

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    Putting a 300 word english translation through google to translate to thai is akin to taking the correct words, putting them into a cup, shaking them and then randomly placing then on the table.

    It doesn't work - unless you're off your head on acid.

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    Pronce. PH said so AGAIN!
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mid
    professional translators have nothing to fear from google .
    Not yet, but Google eventually get there.

    When first launched it was hopeless but as it has been refined it has got to the point that a native language speaker can at least make sense out of what it spits out if translating between latin based languages as long as the reader has an idea of the subject they are giving it to chew through.

    It really falls down on non-latin based languages though IMHO, give it some Korean, Thai or Mandarin to play with and the results are usually gibberish unless they are very simple phrases or very short sentences.

    Quote Originally Posted by bobforest
    I asked him who wrote the paper in English and he told me that he'd written it in Thai and then submitted it to Google translation.
    He should be denied his PhD purely on the fact that he thought Google was the best way to translate his work! FFS, it's a free web-based service and the guy wants to use it to complete his PhD after years of study and effort?

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    Last five words of your paragraph......

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    As QC points out it is getting better.
    I have had occasion to use it in the past and it works better if you put the sentence or document through twice.

    Translate English into Thai then translate the Thai translation back into English.
    This usually gives you English, constructed in the Thai manner.
    Then, translate the newly translated English back into Thai. It does seem to provide a better, more understandable translation for the intended recipient. This may be a useful tool for the OP when faced with the same problem in future.

    As for the PhD guy, words of any language fail me. Any PhD is going to contain technical or subject specific language well beyond the range of most professional translators, let alone google.

    I would insist that he takes his final year again and apologise to the faculty for his unbridled stupidity. I was going to say naivete, but Forest Gumps momma was right. Stupid is as stupid does.
    Heart of Gold and a Knob of butter.

  7. #7
    Member Bettyboo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bobforest
    In the past few weeks, in my capacity as an English language consultant at a Thai university
    Why would they need an English language consultant; don't they employ folks with MAs/PhDs in linguistics?

    Quote Originally Posted by Mid
    professional translators have nothing to fear from google
    True.

    Quote Originally Posted by quimbian corholla
    Not yet, but Google eventually get there.
    I suspect the problem is beyond them until they start cloning brains...

    Quote Originally Posted by quimbian corholla
    translating between latin based languages
    Like Spanish and French?

    Quote Originally Posted by quimbian corholla
    It really falls down on non-latin based languages
    Like English?

    Quote Originally Posted by quimbian corholla
    He should be denied his PhD purely on the fact that he thought Google was the best way to translate his work! FFS, it's a free web-based service and the guy wants to use it to complete his PhD after years of study and effort?
    Agreed. But, the universities probably don't have any local legislation in place saying that translation assistance cannot be used; after all, a dictionary is an assistance to translation. I agree in principle with your point though; it's lazy work from somebody who is not at the level required to graduate.

    Quote Originally Posted by chassamui
    As for the PhD guy, words of any language fail me. Any PhD is going to contain technical or subject specific language well beyond the range of most professional translators, let alone google.
    Yes. Translation requires specific expertise; very true.

    It's a massively problematic area. Google is a waste of time as an 'advanced' translator; real translation skills need to be taught, learnt and used. Even then, the students will always have the unenviable task of translating into a language which is not their native tongue...
    How do I post these pictures???

  8. #8
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    Another way to get the best out of google translate is :

    a) Keep the sentance as short as possible ( Subject verb object stuff )
    b) Don't use a fancy word if there is a simple equivelent.
    c) If a word has more than one meaning make sure the context is clear. If not try to use another word with the same meaning.
    d) Chassamuis advice is good

    I use it a lot when dealing with customers from all over the place . Seems to help a little and they appreciate the effort

  9. #9
    Pronce. PH said so AGAIN!
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bettyboo
    Like Spanish and French?
    Well yeah really. If it is not for something important (like a PhD!) then Google translate will do an OK job to at least give the reader an idea of what is being said.

    Quote Originally Posted by Bettyboo
    Like English?
    To a large extent yes. I know English is a mish-mash of stuff but many of the grammatical structures are fundamentally quite similar to things like Spanish and French. Thai is so dramatically different that Google translate seems to freak out on anything but the simplest of stuff.

    Example: Ever had an English speaking French or Spanish person skim over a document and give a brief recap of what it says? They can do it in a moment, but a well educated English speaking Thai asked to do the same with a Thai document will have to read and re-read because of the way the language is written IME.

  10. #10
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    Well understood that major translator services [Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc] are quite sucky....

    Fortunately, there are quite a number of decent online translator practices that serve a fundamental purpose.....in this case, Thai.

    Thai to English dictionary, translation & transliteration - Thai2English

    thai-language.com

    ....both of these examples provide reasonably accurate translations and grammatical/syntax explanations......as well as verbal pronounciations.

  11. #11
    Member Bettyboo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by quimbian corholla View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Bettyboo
    Like Spanish and French?
    Well yeah really. If it is not for something important (like a PhD!) then Google translate will do an OK job to at least give the reader an idea of what is being said.

    Quote Originally Posted by Bettyboo
    Like English?
    To a large extent yes. I know English is a mish-mash of stuff but many of the grammatical structures are fundamentally quite similar to things like Spanish and French. Thai is so dramatically different that Google translate seems to freak out on anything but the simplest of stuff.

    Example: Ever had an English speaking French or Spanish person skim over a document and give a brief recap of what it says? They can do it in a moment, but a well educated English speaking Thai asked to do the same with a Thai document will have to read and re-read because of the way the language is written IME.
    I can agree with much of what you're saying although I might be tempted to be pernicity at some levels. Nonetheless, we pretty much agree that you don't want a PhD student using Google translate, but then you have a real problem - presumably, on these International degree programs it's a requirement to produce in English, but if it is not an English program then unis might pay 'English consultants' to clean it up; I'd see this as breaking the terms of the degree program, but it is very common... Basically, the students are not good enough and the unis have taken the money, so they are under pressure for the students to pass...

    The term 'English consultant' just rings alarm bells to me.

    I know how these unis work, but they are helping students to pass when they don't have the required skillset... Mai dee...

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    Pronce. PH said so AGAIN!
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    ^ Fair points BB, and I freely admit that I don't know much about the unis here as I am not a teacher or lecturer or anything like that.

    If the PhD was on something like maths or chemistry or metallurgy would it be bad to use a professional translator for the English version? Is that considered a no-no in the world of academia?

    I'm asking because I really don't know.

  13. #13
    Member Bettyboo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by quimbian corholla
    If the PhD was on something like maths or chemistry or metallurgy would it be bad to use a professional translator for the English version? Is that considered a no-no in the world of academia?
    It's a bit of a grey area (to some...), QC. If it's an international program that specifies the work should be produced in English then the student needs to meet that standard. Full stop. Their work should not be edited by an 'English Consultant' employed by the university to improve the student's end product...

    If students have classes to improve their English skills then the end product should not be worked on. Currently I run a course called Research Writing; once completed, the students need to produce a piece of research to satisfy their degree requirements, so I include a mini research project within the Research Writing course. The students should choose a subject close to their final research document, but not too close, they are separate documents. Thus, the students have a taught course to develop their skills. I'm also a student adviser for and on the board of the final research projects. I've made sure that the students sign up to a timeline (over several months) and bring their work to the adviser regularly. This makes sure that: 1) all the work is the student's own; 2) their quality is of the level required. If, students are bringing a completed final project to a 'native speaker' for 'editing' then the system at that uni needs to be dramatically altered, imho, because: 1) there's a very high chance that it'll be plagiarized [I'd guesstimate at 80%+ in the Middle East , and perhaps 25%+ in Thailand - it really depends upon the standards set and maintained by each institution]; 2) the content is being edited (you CANNOT edit the English without changing the content...).

    Just my thoughts, but I know that many unis (every one in Thailand?) will use the 'sabai sabai' technique, but if (and I suspect it is...) we are talking about unis such as Chulalongkorn, Mahidol, etc, then that's shameful... I wouldn't allow it, but then again I have pointed out such failures at said universities... There are many good Thai teachers who will maintain the standards, but they are under pressure from the top to allow students to pass... Imagine the Redbull grandson or mooham doing a degree, and how much pressure would come onto the academic advisor/committee to pass their work even though it may be clearly plagiarized and edited by others... Thaistyle... Of course, Thais can meet the required standards if the institutions maintain the top standards. Chulalongkorn, as the number 1 uni in Thailand, must set the standard here. Do they??? I suspect, sometimes yes and sometimes no; patronage society and all...
    Last edited by Bettyboo; 12-10-2013 at 02:57 PM.

  14. #14
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    The rprovblem is thast in English there may be one word which can mean different things and you have to read the whole sentence to understand the context , computer translators just translate each individual word and not the whole sentence in context .
    "Match" can mean a game , two things that are the same or something to light a fire with .
    If you wrote "I went to watch a football game today" The Thai translation might come up with in Thai *Today I went clock football lighter*

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    If you're an overseas student at a British university, there is no general prohibition on getting someone to proof your work so I don't see any reason why a student in a non-English-speaking environment should be banned from doing the same. Obviously, in the majority of cases, someone going into a PhD course should probably have a decent level of English and many Thai universities don't/won't enforce that (and that's a problem) but the level of English you need to do research is quite a long way below that of publication-level writing.

    ^ I'm fairly sure that Google translate works by analyzing parallel texts so given a large enough corpus - and there's one of the major problems - it would know that 'clock football lighter' is a wildly improbable output.
    Last edited by Zooheekock; 12-10-2013 at 03:21 PM.

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    Member Bettyboo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zooheekock
    the level of English you need to do research is quite a long below the level of publication-level writing.
    Most PhDs can only be satisfied once you have published.

    Quote Originally Posted by Zooheekock
    If you're an overseas student at a British university, there is no general prohibition on getting someone to proof your work
    Proof reading and editing are different (although it's blurred...). Having a native speaking 'non-expert' to comment on your standard of English (not to change the writing, but to comment on areas where the English inhibits understanding) is one thing. Employing a 'language consultant' to edit your work is something very different. Said students would also be in a first language environment for several years, so their English is highly likely to be far stronger.

    If I studied a degree, of any type, in Thai, then I: 1) put my English version through Google translator; 2) had a Thai 'language consultant' to edit my work, then I handed it in - I'd be cheating. In fact, I could, using that technique, pass my PhD in Thai with a very low standard of Thai, nowhere near the standard required.
    Last edited by Bettyboo; 12-10-2013 at 03:23 PM.

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    Member Bettyboo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fluke
    computer translators just translate each individual word and not the whole sentence in context
    They're actually very much more complex than that. Neural learning networks and algorithms are based on brain'(cognitive) processes; lots of research money here...

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    Most PhDs can only be satisfied once you have published.
    For some, yes, that may be a requirement but the quality/value of the research (which is presumably what counts) is not going to be determined by being able to (or not being able to) produce publication-level writing (which is what the OP was about). I agree that advisers ought to be seeing work as it goes along so it's hard to understand how the situation the OP describes would arise. Something has gone wrong there but it doesn't follow from that that it's wrong to have work which has been written by non-native speakers checked/proofed/edited by native speakers. That would be a daft obsession with form over content; what matters is surely the quality of the work, not the ability to structure your clauses correctly.

    If I studied a degree, of any type, in Thai, then I: 1) put my English version through Google translator; 2) had a Thai 'language consultant' to edit my work, then I handed it in - I'd be cheating. In fact, I could, using that technique, pass my PhD in Thai with a very low standard of Thai, nowhere near the standard required.
    If proficiency in Thai were a criterion for determining your grade, then you probably would be cheating but otherwise, no, I don't think you would be.

  19. #19
    Member Bettyboo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zooheekock
    For some, yes, that may be a requirement but the quality/value of the research (which is presumably what counts) is not going to be determined by being able to (or not being able to) produce publication-level writing (which is what the OP was about).
    They are inseparable. PhD publications are a genre, as such the content, style, language, everything is as one. Once you try to separate content from writing, you are in a world of pain... Of course, if you wanted to cheat then this is just the type of 'excuse' one would look for...

    Quote Originally Posted by Zooheekock
    If proficiency in Thai were a criterion for determining your grade, then you probably would be cheating but otherwise, no, I don't think you would be.
    In what universe would proficiency in Thai not be a criterion for a Thai degree? Playing with discourse parametres doesn't change the genre realities.

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    They are inseparable. PhD publications are a genre, as such the content, style, language, everything is as one. Once you try to separate content from writing, you are in a world of pain... Of course, if you wanted to cheat then this is just the type of 'excuse' one would look for...
    Well, as I said, I don't know of any British universities which believe this. In my experience, they will in fact do the reverse and tell non-native-English speakers who have weaker writing to get their work checked before submitting it.

    In what universe would proficiency in Thai not be a criterion for a Thai degree?
    In the universe in which people study subjects other than Thai language. If you do a Maths degree in an English-speaking country, proficiency in English is not what you're marked on.

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    Member Bettyboo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zooheekock
    Well, as I said, I don't know of any British universities which believe this. In my experience, they will in fact do the reverse and tell non-native-English speakers who have weaker writing to get their work checked before submitting it.
    Yes, but that's very different from employing an 'English consultant' to work with the students on preparing their thesis...

    Quote Originally Posted by Zooheekock
    In the universe in which people study subjects other than Thai language.
    My example was clear; studying a Thai degree...

    Quote Originally Posted by Zooheekock
    If you do a Maths degree in an English-speaking country, proficiency in English is not what you're marked on.
    If the coursework must be produced in English then it is... because, the degree is given by an English speaking university that adheres to the national guidelines... If I presented all my work in Thai, but with perfect maths, then I'd fail...

    Sorry mate, this conversation is rather pointless, so I'm gonna stop it.

    Back on topic: Google translate is a very complex algorithm, and it's getting more complex all the time due to its use of neural spreading networks, etc. However, whether or not it can ever produce work equivalent to the tertiary brain processes which are based upon neuronal brain processes existing within an embodied and experiential emotion driven organism is up for debate... I'd say that at a fundamental level it's impossible (other than cloning). Time will tell.

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    Pronce. PH said so AGAIN!
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bettyboo
    I'd say that at a fundamental level it's impossible (other than cloning). Time will tell.
    I'm sure it will get there. After all, people said powered flight was impossible ~60 years before man set foot on the moon.

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    Google Translations

    May be I am missing the point in all this high powered discussions about translation of a students thesis into English from Thai (or any other language for that matter). I am not a teacher or professor but I regularly meet ex students who cannot work out basic translation or even maths without using an electronic device. I have no problem with these electronic devices (calculators etc) as a tool they are excellent but if a student does not understand the basic method of translation or maths system he does not really understand his subject. One problem that I see with all today's education systems (not only in Thailand) is that students are not taught the basic three R's so if electronic devices fail they are completely lost also they are not able to tell when, for what ever reason, the electronic device is giving them the wrong answer.

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    ANYONE who's fooled around with Google translates knows that going from Thai to English or English to Thai is often a fruitless, time-wasting endeavor.

    Seeing as Thais make up less than 1% of the world's population, there just isn't enough demand for a really good translator. Also because Thai is so contextual (where meaning varies based on words adjacent to or in the same sentence) the end result is gobbledygook.

    The abysmal and often tenuous grasp of engrish even degree holding thais possess is going to really come back and bite them as soon as ASEAN opens up. I think it will be a well deserved kick in the ass; because so far nothing has motivated these people or the powers that be to do anything about the very low level of English most thais have.

    I wouldn't worry about these people getting any worse at something resembling semi-coherent English by using Google. I mean when you're at the bottom of the curve like they are, you can only go up, right?

    Sadly for the poster known as "quimbian corholla" Google translates will never "eventually get there" between Thai and English or vice-versa. There is NOT enough demand, and there is not enough material in corpus form which can be "plugged in" so that a workable database of terms can be compiled. Factor in the thais penchant for misspelling stuff in chat-speak thai and you're even further off the mark.

    Here's an article from a friend's website about checking Google translates over a period of years;
    A Woman Learning Thai… and some men too ;-) » 2013: The Fifth Google Translate Challenge

    Quite pathetic really; especially considering Google Translates is allegedly self correcting; insofar as people who use the application can suggest better translations for words..
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    Question Translations

    One point to remember when using spell-check programs is that the only programs I have seen actually check spelling against 'American English'. Before any one gets up in arms about American English there is nothing wrong with it but on many occasions grammar, spelling and terminology differ between written American-English and English-English which sometimes completely changes the meaning of a word or phrase. What I have found is that in Thai schools they generally teach America-English which may possibly cause students problems when dealing with English-English translations as would English-English students dealing with subjects relating to American-English. Google translation service is no exception to this problem. During my working life I had 20 odd years of dealing with this language cross over problem so now it does not cause me problems but I could easily see how a non English speaking student could become confused by these differences.
    Last edited by Brown Sugar; 27-10-2013 at 02:18 PM.

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