Babelfish in the workplace

I had to re-write the instructions sticker that goes on the back of one of my company’s products. The one we use now was done in 1994, and has the old typeface and colors, and there were a couple sentences that could have been clearer. So I put together the top half of the sticker. The bottom half is in Spanish, so we’re going to use a translation service, and then drop that text into the file before it goes to the printer. Pretty easy stuff.

My boss has been on vacation all week. The manager spoke to me on Tuesday about the project. She has apparently been a little too inspired by the quarterly exhortations to find innovative ways of saving the company money. When I told her where we were on the project, she asked me, “Have you ever heard of babelfish?” Yes, I’ve heard of babelfish. “Instead of paying a translation service, maybe we could just run it through that.” Hmm. Maybe we could. Maybe we could train Barbary Macaques to work in production and save on labor costs. I didn’t say that, of course. I said, “Oh you can’t use those translations. They’re not that accurate.” She thought that would be OK, because a couple of guys on the floor are from Puerto Rico, and they could look it over. Maybe we could give it a try, and save the company a whole lot of money! All week long she has been leaving messages and e-mails, reminding me of our conversation and asking about “the status.”

Yes, of course, you fucking dimwit. Translation services still exist, despite babelfish, because of a failure to think outside the fucking box. Because you’re the cleverest person in the world and no one ever thought that instant and free would be preferable to paying professionals. Of course, I would love it if our product became a popular joke in the industry, because the Spanish instructions read like the English ones on the cheap bamboo shades from China I bought. Hey, it gets our name out there, right?

You’re an idiot. You’re a fucking idiot, and your only saving grace was that you were never in aposition do any harm to anyone but yourself. There is no answer to this suggestion, other than, “Are you fucking stupid? Or just insane?”

Anyway, the boss is back day after tomorrow and it becomes her problem. I hope she enjoys it as much I did.

Last month there was a fun thread about online translations.

Management tends to be retarded. I would take several phrases, translate them into Spanish and then translate them back. Show her how inaccurate it is. If that doesn’t work, wait till your boss comes back and talk to him. This manager seems dumb.

I took the opprtunity to babelfishize part of your second paragraph, Saoirse.

Yup, auto-translation still sucks.

Well, maybe I was a little too hasty. Or, as they say in Spanish, perhaps Hmm.

First paragraph babelfishified

Unfortunately, while I think that the Babelfish translations into and then back out of Spanish may be useful for educating the OP’s idiot it’s worth noting that even with accurate translations, by people with brains and a bit more knowledge of language than can be fit into an algorithm still can leave us with things like, this. ISTM that translation from one language to another is often hard enough, retranslating seems like it must be an order of magnitude more difficult.

IOW, there’s room, I believe, to say that the test of translating via Babelfish and then retranslating is one that most translation protocols, including many services, would find difficult. (The professional translation service wouldn’t have as much grammatical gobbledygook, of course, but sense may still be absent.) I don’t think it’s a fair test.

I’m assuming that the OPs boss is monolingual, alas.

But if she’s counting on the Peurto Rican workers to help out, a more fair test of Babelfish might be to set up a simple set of instructions for them to do, on a page, then Babelfish it into Spanish, and see whether they can follow those directions.

You then run the risk of the manager saying, “Sounds okay to me. Let’s run with it!”

OMG, if only that was not possible…

I sometimes fantasize about starting a battle like that, only I’m sure I’d wind up as collateral damage.

If the Puerto Ricans are supposed to review it, why not just have them do the translation to begin with?

Oh man, I hear you on this one.

We’re currently doing a project for a client. A big big project (a Web site) for which they have paid a lot of money. Their current site has a selection to display the site in Spanish. When you click on the selection, it’s obvious that they had one of their Spanish-speaking sales reps translate their text and had their old Web designers make separate pages for the Spanish text. Looks fine, works fine. Even the graphical elements are in Spanish. The only things not in Spanish are the product names and descriptions because they change every day. Good enough, I’d suspect.

But what do they want on their new expensive site? Babelfish, or “something else that’s free.” Not the Spanish text they’ve already had written up (which will not be changing with the new site anyway). And they want more than Spanish. They want French and German, too.

We outlined the pitfalls of this decision to them over several long, pleading emails. To wit:

  1. Machine translation is not good. At all. The most obvious example of this is how the various free services translate the menu item “CONTACT US” into “UNITED STATES CONTACT” and “ABOUT US” into “UNITED STATES ABOUT” (the capital US throws it for a loop). This will be especially sticky when their product names and descriptions get completely fucked.
  2. All of the free services require the use of a big ugly logo-ized dropdown, which is much different than the little “Location: USA” link your design proposed. I actually ended up doing a good job “hacking” Google’s translation service to look not so bad, but it still looks severely unprofessional.
  3. Some aspects of your proposed design are extremely tight when it comes to the layout of text. Have you considered how much longer German words can be than English words? Some of these things will end up looking horrible when translated (and they did).
  4. Does anyone at your organization speak French or German? No? Then what is the point of allowing for the translation of your site into French or German for people who can’t read English at all? Do you think they’re going to be able to call you and speak to you in English? If they can speak English at all, don’t you think they’d rather try to navigate your site in perfect English instead of broken French and German?

The whole design of the site drives me bonkers to begin with, and having to deal with what Google’s translation service does to one’s HTML (Google physically changes it for you) has been the stuff of nightmares for me. The site pretty much doesn’t work anymore when you view it under Google’s translation service - the Powers That Be prefer Ajax shopping carts, but the Ajax does not work when in Translate mode.

So they’ve actually made it harder for people to use the site who speak a different language. They’ve made the site look bad. They’ve falsely represented themselves as offering services in French and German. But, they saved themselves a few bucks in the process.


OP, you should BabelFish the instruction but have a native Spanish speaker put a disclaimer in front like this: “My idiot manager didn’t want to pay for translation. If you can read this, please don’t tell him I called him an idiot”.

Per Babelfish:

If the manager can use Babelfish and the OP takes up your idea, he’s screwed.

Naw, See? That’s my point exactly! It translated US widget #3 as “My one in charge of the idiot did not wish to pay the translation”

I think that Babelfish inhales the fat hot testicles of the donkey.

It is truth!

I have found one use for Babelfish in the workplace.

I work in tech support, and our policy is that we only offer support in English. However, if we get a message in Spanish or Mongolian or whatever, I’ll run it through Babelfish to see if it’s something easy - they just need a link to an installer, or something like that.

If it is, I’ll send them the generic “we only support in English” with the addendum “your issue seems to be that you need a link to download, here it is”. In English, that is … I am too terrified to actually filter a response through Babelfish. I hope that they’ll figure it out. They generally do.

This policy has drastically reduced the number of people who have sent near-nonsensical tickets in some sort of half-English, half-local-language mix.

I’m now on my sixth Spanish lesson all-time, and even I can tell that there are lots of problems when Babelfish translates things into Spanish.

Yes, but you’re almost qualified to sing the “One Semester of Spanish - Love Song”. :slight_smile:

I have found the Google’s language tools are sometimes better than babelfish. Just for fun, I took the first two paragraphs and translated them into Spanish and back:

In this case, it seems to be much better than babelfish, but still not nearly good enough to rely on for use on a commercial product.