Friday, August 1, 2014

The Use and Abuse of Translation Software

We in these United States don't read nearly enough foreign literature in translation. We can be arrogant with our assumption that everything worth reading has been written in English. We can lose the pleasure of reading good foreign books, even when they are written in English, by not understanding the cultural background. Bubblews has the potential to help us overcome this problem, and I'm glad.

All Bubbles have to be written in English. If it's English as a Foreign Language, that's not a problem. Bubblews is a friendly community and most of us will overlook a few typical student mistakes in English grammar.

Even if Bubblers achieve "English" by writing something in their native language and running it through translation software, which some of the new batch of Asian Bubblers are obviously doing, many of us don't mind because frankly the content is interesting. And when the translation software messes it up--as when words obviously being used to refer to baby chickens are translated as "shrimps" and "creeps"--the result is, up to a point, funny.

I actually plussed a Bubble with the title "Technical Evil Chicken" because it was hilarious. It was about a Korean technique for cooking chicken, but with that title, and a photo of people walking along the rail of a bridge, it looked as if it were going to be about a game...maybe a variation on the American game of "chicken" where kids try to push each other into water. And I could figure out how the actual recipe below this title would be used to make something that would probably taste good.

The trouble is that some computer-translated posts aren't funny. When the translation software goes wrong, and the American reader does not understand the original language well enough to figure out what went wrong, the result makes no sense to the American reader. It becomes the sort of thing Bubblews is supposed to avoid publishing.

American (and British, Canadian, Australian, English-speaking Filipino, South African, etc.) readers need to help the site with this. When a Bubble is complete gibberish, we need to warn our foreign fellow Bubblers to get help translating it or pull it down.

One abuse I would flag. I've seen this only once. The person took a magazine article that was originally in English, ran a translation of that through a computer translator back into English, and submitted the resulting hash as a Bubble. And it contained a table, right? And the segment submitted as a Bubble contained the complete first row of the table, then half of the second row and none of the rest...the person hadn't even read the table. And unless somebody who speaks English connects with the person, reads the article, and flags this abuse, there's no way an automated plagiarism checker can catch it. This is not just some poor struggling student trying to make a few pennies to stay in school. This person may need money but s/he is deliberately abusing the system.

PeterNYC is not the first American e-friend who's Bubbled about what a shock it is, after we've spent years polishing our English for American editors, to come to a site that...frankly, seems to expect us to be the editors. Why did we think this site was paying us to comment on other people's Bubbles? The legitimate foreign Bubblers depend on us to let them know, and Bubblews depends on us to let them and sometimes the administrators know, which foreign Bubblers are bad, which are good, and which have done the best they could.