Tip o’ the Week 333 – Du Temps Perdu

clip_image001Last weekend saw the greatest motor race in the world take place in the presence of hundreds of thousands of visiting fans, though mainstream media barely gave it a passing glance. If you’re interested, you may be able to catch highlights on Eurosport or watch online, looking out for the Scottish knight as he transitions from two to four wheels.

With a good portion of the sporting world focussed on France right now (at least you’d think that, given the TV coverage), it seem opportune to look at some language tools if the de facto lingua franca of The Mother Tongue isn’t available.

Machine translation has become fairly commonplace, and though it’s not perfect, it’s a lot better than the non-fluent might achieve by stumbling through a phrasebook and getting all the pronunciation wrong. Translation in real time is now built-in to Skype, with instant message or even full spoken voice translation available in several languages. The technology is moving from simple word-by-word conversion, to full semantic and grammatical translation (though not yet summarising or otherwise interpreting), and it might not be all that long before fully synchronous, real-time translation from any language to any other is possible just by sticking an earpiece in. Douglas Adams would have been pleased.


Windows 10 has added translation capabilities into Cortana; saying something like Hey Cortana, translate “Where is the nearest train station” in French or Hey Cortana, how do I say “Oh no, not penalties again” in German should let you see, and possibly hear, what the translation should be.

Click on the Open Translator link to visit the Bing Translator web page, which will do the same sort of thing, but can also break down the phrase by word, showing alternative words in the translated text that you might want to use instead.

clip_image005If you’re running a preview version of the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, and have a build later than 14302, you can also add an Edge extension to translate a page that’s written in another language, accessed via the Translator icon showing up on the toolbar.

It’s a bit “all or nothing”, and doesn’t show you the individual words that it has translated, but it is quick and easy. You may want to try feeding the URL into bing.com/translator or translate.google.com to see how well the translation has gone (if you hover over translated words, both will show you the original underneath, though both have a habit of mangling complex websites).

Finally, if you’d like to just translate a short phrase but might be offline at the time (so Cortana isn’t any use), it’s worth installing the Bing Translator app, which also has the ability to translate text identified from the camera, such as on a menu or an instructional sign. Très bien, or as Proust would say, “la malade imaginaire de recondition et de toute surveillance est bientôt la même chose”!

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