Faculté des sciences

How effective is Google's translation service in search?

Savoy, Jacques ; Dolamic, Ljiljana

In: Communications of the ACM, 2009, vol. 52, no. 10, p. 139-143

In multilingual countries (Canada, Hong Kong, India, among others) and large international organizations or companies (such as, WTO, European Parliament), and among Web users in general, accessing information written in other languages has become a real need (news, hotel or airline reservations, or government information, statistics). While some users are bilingual, others can read documents... Plus

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    Summary
    In multilingual countries (Canada, Hong Kong, India, among others) and large international organizations or companies (such as, WTO, European Parliament), and among Web users in general, accessing information written in other languages has become a real need (news, hotel or airline reservations, or government information, statistics). While some users are bilingual, others can read documents written in another language but cannot formulate a query to search it, or at least cannot provide reliable search terms in a form comparable to those found in the documents being searched. There are also many monolingual users who may want to retrieve documents in another language and then have them translated into their own language, either manually or automatically.
    Translation services may however be too expensive, not readily accessible or not available within a short timeframe. On the other hand, many documents contain non-textual information such as images, videos and statistics that do not need translation and can be understood regardless of the language involved. In response to these needs and in order to make the Web universally available regardless of any language barriers, in May 2007 Google launched a translation service that now provides two-way online translation services mainly between English and 41 other languages, for example, Arabic, simplified and traditional Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish (http://translate.google.com/). Over the last few years other free Internet translation services have been made available as for example by BabelFish (http://babel.altavista.com/) or Yahoo! (http://babelfish.yahoo.com/). These two systems are similar to that used by Google, given they are based on technology developed by Systran, one of the earliest companies to develop machine translation. Also worth mentioning here is the Promt system (also known as Reverso, http://translation2.paralink.com/), which was developed in Russia to provide mainly translation between Russian and other languages.
    The question we would like to address here is to what extent a translation service such as Google can produce adequate results in the language other than that being used to write the query. Although we will not evaluate translations per se we will test and analyze various systems in terms of their ability to retrieve items automatically based on a translated query. To be adequate, these tests must be done on a collection of documents written in one given language plus a series of topics (expressing user information needs) written in other languages, plus a series of relevance assessments (relevant documents for each topic).