Types of Translation Aids

By: Mikio Moriyasu - Revised: 2006-06-22 devin


Information about translation aid applications, websites, and agencies.


Companies such as Systran, SDL International, and Translation Experts, Ltd. manufacture sophisticated foreign language translation applications designed to translate everything from individual words, to complete documents and web pages. Each application utilizes a company specific language database and translation guidelines to analyze the content of a given document and convert it into the chosen language. As a result, the actual analysis of the words, grammar, and to a limited degree, context of the subject document will be different from one application to the next. It is quite possible that the translated results from one application will be more more sophisticated than another's and that the overall quality of the translations produced by the same application will vary from language to language.

The two prominent issues with software based solutions, however, are cost and overall availability. Because language translation is critical for business, most of the available applications such as those produced by Systran and SDL International are directed at this market. As a result, user licenses for the most sophisticated applications are generally sold in groups of ten or more and cost anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Individual licenses or desktop application packages are available from both companies. While they are more modestly priced, the software may not be equipped with all of the features or sophistication of their the corporate counterparts.

A third consequence of this business oriented marketing, is the lack of software, corporate or individual, for the Mac. Because most of the business world utilizes Windows, the majority of the available software is created for the IBM/PC platform.

The one exception to this is Translation Experts Ltd. They produced both full and word-only translation applications for Windows and Mac Classic. They also provide built-in support for a wide variety of languages for both platforms. Unfortunately, none of the major players in this market, had an OS X package ready for release when this study was conducted.

Mac and OS X users do have solutions, however. There are a small number of OS X shareware utilities that access free online translation web services to provide the user with dictionary, phrase/sentence, and limited document translation services. While not strictly a foreign language translation application, Watson has a built-in language translator utility. The translator function allows the user to select from four different online translation databases and guidelines and then enter the word, word phrase, or group of sentences for translation. While the number of available languages is limited to what is offered by the each database, because OS X has built-in language support, no additional font packages are necessary.

"Ask the Web" for both Mac OS X and Classic is a dictionary and phrase/sentence translator that has an extensive European language database including many Slavic languages.

One unique feature of this utility is the ability of the translation database to display several different translation options for the subject word including verb tense, where in the sentence it is used, and if there are additional words that mean the same thing. Users entering a phrase or sentence could conceivably construct a translation from the list of available options but they would will need a rudimentary understanding of the language they are translating their documents into.

German Translation Results for "Hello, How are you?"


In addition to their application packages, Systran, SDL International, and Translation Experts also sponsor free online translation services. These services, which include dictionaries, phrase/sentence translation, small documents translation, and web page translation, are readily accessible on the Internet through most browsers.

The prominent issues with online translation are accuracy, speed, and accessibility. Online translations are done using a "stripped down" and/or less sophisticated version of the translation database and guidelines used in the more complete corporate based applications and the most results are not done with the same level of proficiency. In addition, most online services will only translate to and from prominent Western European languages. Only a few online sites such as InterTran and Babelfish at Altavista have the capacity to translate Asian languages and fewer still will translate Middle Eastern and Slavic based tongues.

SDL and Translation Experts LTD do offer a slightly different twist to their standard online services. For a fee, registered users can access SDL PlusTranslation and Corporate InterTran.

Both of these are expanded online translation services which possess more sophisticated translation features including more extensive document translation services or more varied language support. The user will still have the necessary font packages installed, however, for the translated results to display properly.

Depending on the time of day, the users connection speed, and the complexity of the material to be translated, the translation process will take time. If the online site receives large number of hits, the database may not be available at all. It is also possible, that the translation database will fail to process the request all together or crash the browser. This is especially true when translating web pages that possess large numbers of graphics, Flash based animations, or a high degree of interactivity. A number of these corporate web sites, however, have versions in other languages so outside translation may not be necessary.


A small number of companies offer full translation services to business for a fee. These companies are essentially independent agencies that will translate software, web pages, and technical documents for companies.