Translation Software Buyers Guide      | Home |

The information below is a must for anyone even thinking about buying a language translation software program. We do not advocate any specific specific translation software product, only the information you need to be as well informed as possible before making a purchase. This page includes:

Basic things you need to know and understand about language translation software
How do translation software programs actually work?
What to ask yourself before purchasing a translation program
Some things translation software publishers fail to mention
How can you determine which translation program is best for your needs?

From its very inception, many people thought that the computer would provide the ultimate solution in finally breaking down human language barriers; that it would provide a vehicle whereby language translation would become widely automated and available and, once and for all, completely eliminate the language obstacles that have all too often separated peoples, cultures, societies and understanding. However, it has been decades since computers first arrived on the scene and we are still waiting for the solution to fully arrive.

The reason is simply that language translation is more of an art than a science. While computers are wonderful if you are dealing with numbers, language is, in many ways, much more complex than numbers could ever be. The constantly changing and all too often ambiguous nature of human language is such that even highly trained and experienced human translators often need to research the perfect or acceptable translation for some words and/or phrases within a particular context.

Basic things you need to know and understand about language translation software:

No matter what any translation software publisher may claim, no translation program in the world can produce translations as accurate and intelligible as an experienced, well trained professional human translator. If you need to translate text for product packaging, user's manuals, customer brochures or flyers, legal agreements, or a host of other written documents that will eventually be seen by your clients, customers, partners, or which may have legal or ethical liability issues for you or your company, you should hire an experienced, well trained professional human translator. There is no substitute.

The best possible results you should expect from any machine translation software program available on the market today is what is sometimes called a "draft" translation. Essentially, the translation results may only provide you with the gist or general idea of what the text is about. The more complex the language used in the source text, the more it uses industry specific terms, ambiguous words, jargon, slang, acronyms, and idiomatic expressions, the longer the sentences are, and the more clauses used in sentence constructions, the less likely the translation program will be able to translate it to any degree of true accuracy.

To obtain the best possible results from any machine translation program, the source or input text to be translated should employ simple, direct, concise language, use short declarative sentences, be spelled correctly and be grammatically correct. Good source text is clearly written, easily understood and concise. See Tips for Making Better Translations for specific things you can do to help obtain better translations

Some translation programs can help speed up the work of a professional human translator, especially if it allows for the creation of customized user translation databases as well as providing the option of selecting an alternative translation for the one automatically selected by the program.

How do translation software programs actually work?
Most all machine or automatic translation software programs consist of several different individual components which work in close conjunction with one another. For example, a program that translates both Portuguese to English and English to Portuguese will usually contain similar basic components. While greatly simplified here, such a translation programs usually consist of:

Program Engine (the executable program)—includes the user interface (what the user sees and how they use and interact with the program), provides an interface to other programs, determines what type of text (.doc, .rtf, .txt, .html, .pdf, .xls, etc.) is recognized for input and provided by output, parses (breaks down) the input text in conjunction with the language rule database of the input language (an syntactic analysis of the words in the text to determine its formal grammatical structure), and, in conjunction with the appropriate language translation database, identifies, selects and compiles translation(s) for output to the other language, doing so in conjunction with the output language grammar rule database.
Portuguese Grammar Rule Database—provides information about how Portuguese verbs are conjugated, nouns and adjectives made plural, other such language related information as well as  the formal grammatical structure of Portuguese to assist in parsing and compiling both input and output text,
English Grammar Rule Database—provides information about how English verbs are conjugated, nouns and adjectives made plural, other such language related information as well as the formal grammatical structure of English to assist in parsing and compiling both input and output text,
Portuguese-English Translation Database—essentially an English to Portuguese dictionary translation database which provides translations for individual words based upon the part of speech or POS (verb, noun, adjective, adverb, pronoun, preposition, article, conjunction and interjection) and often will contain specific information about a word's specific use and meaning in various fields of endeavor (medicine, engineering, art, law, science, food, etc.). Many databases also include translations for multiple word phrases.
English-Portuguese Translation Database—essentially an Portuguese to English dictionary translation database which provides translations for individual words based upon the part of speech or POS (verb, noun, adjective, adverb, pronoun, preposition, article, conduction and interjection) and often will contain specific information about a word's specific use and meaning in various fields of endeavor (medicine, engineering, art, law, science, food, etc.). Many databases also include translations for multiple word phrases.

A flowchart of the process of translating Portuguese to English might look something like this:

For example, in the above scenario, the Portuguese input text "O meu carro novo vermelho é incrivelmente lindo" should be translated into English as "My new red car is incredibly beautiful."

What to ask yourself before purchasing a translation program:

Do you need to translate more than a few pages of text every week?
Do you often translate materials containing confidential, sensitive or proprietary information?
Do you absolutely require the ability (not just think it would be "nice") to translate several different types of text files (.doc, .rtf, .txt, .pdf, .html, .xls, etc.) inside a variety of different computer programs and applications?
Do you need to create your own personalized and customized translation database(s) so as to maintain more consistent translation from one document to the next?
Are you or do you have a friend, associate or coworker (who is at least somewhat fluent in both languages) to help you "clean up" the translation provided by the machine translation program?
Do you need to hear the Portuguese text spoken (even if by a synthesized voice) to help you learn the language?
Is the ability to translate on your own computer without the need of an Internet connection really worth from USD$ 70.00 to USD$ 250.00 or even more to you?

If you can honestly answer yes to all or even most of these questions then, possibly, you should contemplate purchasing a language translation software program to install and run on your own system.

If you answered no to most (if not all) of these questions, then one of the free, online translators will most likely provide you with everything that you really need. See our Online Translation Guide for recommendations about which of the free translators we recommend.

Some things translation software publishers fail to mention:

All language translation software programs are heavily reliant upon both grammar rule and translation dictionary databases, yet several current translation software programs on the market today sell programs whose grammar rule and translation dictionary databases have not been changed, altered or updated for possibly a decade or more. "So what's the big deal?" you may ask. "Language doesn't change that much." But if the grammar rule and translation dictionary databases started out being incomplete and with the usual number of human-generated errors that are present in all such databases, they are still there ... after all these years. To some, the attitude seems to be "let them eat cake."
Some translation software programs utilize translation dictionary databases that were created by people who know nothing about the language or languages they are working with because all they do is enter the contents of printed dictionaries into an electronic format. They may work in Asia, Eastern Europe or elsewhere where labor is cheap. You may think, "so what?" But, if you have ever looked through a well know printed Portuguese-English dictionary, you already know that there are more than a few English "translations" that are not English words at all according to Webster's, Oxford and other reliable sources.
The quality of the two "paired" translation dictionary databases are very often very different and uneven including those within the very same software program. For example, in many commercially available Portuguese and English translation programs, the Portuguese to English dictionary database is usually superior (and provides better translations) than the English to Portuguese dictionary database. For example, most all translation programs—when translating from English to Portuguese—fail to provide the common Portuguese possessive pronominal contractions "dele" (his) [de+ele] and "dela" (hers) [de+ela] in places where they should be used.
With a  few rare exceptions, in all translation program packages that contain multiple languages, only the to/from English languages are translated directly from one language to the other. For example, if a translation package provides Portuguese to English translation, the appropriate and individual to Portuguese or to English translation dictionary database is used. If, the same package offers, for example, Portuguese to Spanish, French, Italian, Russian, or whatever, the "interface" between Portuguese and the other language is English! Essentially, the Portuguese word to be translated is "looked up" in the Portuguese to English translation dictionary database and then, the English translation of the word is used to translate to the other language using the program's English to XXX translation dictionary database. For most simple words this is not a problem. For other more complex words this can present huge problems in certain cases.
Some translation software programs on the market offer a sometimes confusing variety of home, personal,  business, professional, enterprise and other such named versions of their software—each at a correspondingly different price. In almost all cases, any version except their very top of the line, most expensive package of any language pair (e.g. Portuguese-English) is usually just a "cut down" version of the largest available—the language translation dictionary database has been reduce in size to enable them to reduce the price. Unfortunately, this also "cuts down" the corresponding accuracy of any translation produced with it.
Some translation software publishers pride themselves on providing a translator interface (including commands on the application's menu bar) for programs such as Word, Outlook, Excel, and so forth. That's great. The problem is that the installation of the translator's interface often slows down the program application to a crawl, even when you are not using the translator. Remember, copying and pasting between Windows applications is fast and relatively hassle-free. Why slow down applications just to have a translator  command on a menu bar?
A few translation software programs on the market do not provide true machine translation. They hide behind the guise of being "interactive." At best, they may only produce literal, word-by-word translations or transliterations. They do not parse the text (break down its grammatical structure) so as to be able to select the correct part of speech translation, correctly make nouns and adjectives plural, conjugate verbs or correctly place adjectives in relation to their nouns ... and on and on and on.
New translation program releases often only provide additional functionality in terms of types of text files that can be translated (e.g. .pdf files), compatibility with new operating systems or programs, new program interface options and newly designed screens, buttons, gewgaws and help files. Because of this, an upgrade can be a waste of money for many users.
A few translation software publishers claim that they use artificial neural networks to provide superior translation. Our brains are neural networks, so an artificial neural network is essentially an artificial brain. Because the English language contains numerous ambiguous words—some say over 20,000—the use of an ambiguous word in a particular sentence can make a particular sentence open to multiple interpretations. This is what double entendres are all about. So, the creation of an artificial neural network that could disambiguate language like the human mind does could certainly provide better translation. The problem here is that the creation of a language artificial neural network would require millions and millions of megabytes of parallel text—the same text, for example, in both correct English and correct Portuguese. These parallel texts would be used (with their multitude of examples) to help disambiguate the language and more accurately determine the more correct translation of particular words within different contexts. Has anyone really done this? A quick Internet search would seem to indicate that one probably has, and another probably has not.

How can you determine which translation program is best for your needs?
Make sure you have read all information presented on this page before proceeding.
If you need only a single language pair, for example, a program that only translates between English and Portuguese, a multi-language translation package makes little sense.
If the vendor offers a variety of different program versions (personal, business, professional, etc.), remember that the bigger the better.
Don't think ill of a vendor that only offers a single program version for the language pair you need. Their single version may cost a more than a competitor's least expensive version but, in fact, may provide better translations than the competitor's most costly version.
As with everything else in the world, cost and quality are not necessarily synonymous. A less expensive program may, in fact, provide better translations than a program costing much more. Remember cost and benefit.
Use your favorite search engine to locate web sites of language translation software programs that offer the language combination you need. For example, if you need a translation program that translates between Portuguese and English, search for "Portuguese English automatic translation software," "Portuguese machine translation software," "Portuguese translation software," and, even though "Brazilian" is not a language, you can also search for "Brazilian automatic translation software." Any such search will provide you with pages and pages of links.
Carefully review all available written information about several different competing translation programs that provide translation between the languages you need.
View any online screen shots of the program in question. If you can easily understand what's happening in the screen shot, then the program is probably relatively easy to use.
Try to make the best "apples to apples" (not apples to oranges) comparison between the different products based upon all available written material you have been able to locate and read.
Carefully compare program features and the relative cost/benefit of different programs. If a program or program version offers a feature you will rarely if ever use, why pay extra?
Search for and read any online reviews or user comments that may be available for a particular product. But be careful with reviews. One review of currently available software translation programs fails to mention how testing was conducted, by whom and on what types of text. Additionally, they rate a program that they blatantly admit they did not even try.
Ask family, friends and colleagues if they use a translation program and if they can make any recommendation. Even negative comments can be helpful.
If the vendor offers an online translator, use it to translate a variety of different types of text and—if you are not fully fluent in the language of the translated text—send the translations to a friend or associate who is. Ask them what they think about the quality of the translations.
If the vendor offers a downloadable demonstration or trial version, download it, install it and use it for every conceivable situation you may eventually use it for before the trial period ends.

Copyright ©2010 Brazil Consulting. All rights reserved.