Issue 6, 2012. December-January

   

TRANSLATING ONLINE: WHICH SITE HAS THE RIGHT STUFF?

There's no shortage of resources on the internet for translating between Georgian and English texts. Some sources offer simple word lists while others rival print dictionaries in their depth and accuracy. Instant translation sites promise a quick fix while collaborative projects invite users to contribute their own expertise in hopes of channeling the wisdom of crowds into the perfect multilingual database. We took a look at eight websites, each with their own highlights and drawbacks, which meet the needs of everyone from the casual weekend visitor to Georgia to the professional Georgian-English translator.

Neal Zupancic


Dictionary.ge offers a comprehensive English-Georgian dictionary compiled and edited over a period of 25 years by Tbilisi State University professors. The dictionary boasts up to 800,000 lexical items organized into 110,000 entries, including technical terminology taken from various scientific and artistic fields. Entries contain complete definitions of English words and phrases in Georgian, and the site's full text search feature allows the user to browse these definitions to find the meanings of Georgian words or phrases. The dictionary is not free, but for only three lari for one month of access, the serious translator will find it more than worthwhile to give dictionary.ge a try before committing to the 25 lari/year subscription.

Google Translate might be the web's most ambitious free translation package, with phrase and sentence translation and a Translator Toolkit for translating, sharing, and collaborating on documents. Unfortunately Google's translation software for Georgian is currently in the earliest stages of development and often has trouble dealing with even very simple words and phrases, let alone specialist vocabulary.

"Once or twice I have used Google Translate, but it was not of any use, as I was looking for the Georgian translation of several technical terms," says Erekle Glurjidze, a professional translator working in Tbilisi. "I guess Google Translate can be of great help if one does not have a hard copy or other dictionary and has only the Internet, but again, this depends on the degree of complexity and context of translation." Translations are provided without context or additional information, such as pronunciation or part of speech.

Google Translate can usually recognize Georgian words in their inflected forms, meaning that, unlike they do with most dictionaries, users do not have to figure out the root or citation form of a word in order to find its translation. This can be very helpful in getting an overall meaning, but you can't rely on the grammar to be exactly right, according to freelance translator Lika Barabadze. "It usually translates verbs or nouns and discards the grammar, so you can't use it for a whole text: you use it to get the general meaning of a text." Barabadze also cautions that Google Translate won't interpret inflections correctly.

Translate.ge provides instant English-Georgian and Georgian-English translations in a minimalist layout. Results include information such as part of speech, plurals, phrasal verbs, and common expressions. Though its sometimes dense entries can seem unfriendly and hard to sort through, translate.ge is the most comprehensive of any of the free translation resources, and the preferred option of many translators. "It's simple, it's very easy to use; you just type in the word and you get the translation," says Barabadze. "When you need something done fast, you use it." As with many instant translation sites, switching to the Georgian-English tab sets the keyboard input to Georgian automatically so you don't have to have Georgian typing enabled on your computer.

WinGeo has searchable dictionaries in English, Georgian, Russian, and Turkish. With 60,000 English-Georgian and 50,000 Georgian-English entries, WinGeo is slightly less comprehensive than some of the other options, but its English transliterations for all entries could make it the best option for the casual user who is unfamiliar with the Georgian alphabet. Try searching with an asterisk (*) to find all entries containing a certain sequence of characters, and click on a search result to see its part of speech.

Targmne.com is another instant translation site. Like translate.ge, targmne.com offers detailed results, but it formats the results with an eye towards readability. Click on the pink bar beneath a heading to see the full entry. Targmne also offers a number of additional language options, like French, German, Russian, and Turkish, and also sets keyboard input automatically depending on which language you select.

A surprising source of Georgian-English translations is Wiktionary. Approximately 12,000 Georgian words have entries featuring translations, transcriptions, pronunciation, links to English-language definitions, and, often, grammatical tables that lay out the different forms the word can take, like plural forms for nouns and conjugations of verbs. Users can browse through categories, such as "Georgian verbs," or search for specific words. Like its cousin Wikipedia, Wiktionary is user-edited, so watch out for mistakes and double-check with a traditional dictionary when accuracy counts.

Lexicon.ge offers instant translations with results in a simple list format. Although it lacks details, Lexicon.ge can translate seven languages to and from Georgian. Perhaps the site's most notable feature is its text converter, which can convert between the four most common ways of encoding Georgian characters, so keep Lexicon.ge in mind if you come across a Georgian text that your browser can't interpret.

Last but not least, Glosbe is a multilingual online dictionary that aims to provide context to its translations by allowing users to view examples of human-translated passages containing each search term. These "translation memories" can be phrases, sentences, or even whole paragraphs, and are presented side-by-side with the translated word or phrase highlighted so the user can see how the term is used in authentic real-world texts. A search of Glosbe's Georgian-English dictionary also provides an automatic translation from Google, which could save the user a trip even if the term is not in Glosbe's database.

Glosbe is still in the early stages of development, with only 24,000 Georgian-English phrases translated, and, as a collaborative project, its success will ultimately rely on its user base, but the features it promises - from translation memories to audio recordings to its unique approach to storing meanings - make it the site to watch as the world of online translations moves forward.