Online translators as intelligent translation tools

Today, technology has reached such a high level that we can instantaneously communicate with our family, with colleagues, or with people we do not even know in the farthest reaches of the world without breaking a sweat. Furthermore, we can do so in their native languages without even a single credit hour of exploratory language class. With online translators like Google Translate, Yandex, Bing Translate, and many others, the world shrinks in the best way. In the past, when someone needed to have something translated, most of the cases people had to look for an office and let experts do the rest. The other option was to use several dictionaries and spend a lot of time to translate it oneself. But time has changed. We are now in the digital era where the Internet has made things pretty easy. All you got to do is look for a reliable online tool for free translation with a single click. This article is about all the different types of online translation tools available and how they can be used as a teaching tool. Additionally, after reading the text, one will also have a clear understanding of the copyright issues related to online translators, as well as how to avoid them.

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The world of online translation tools: a palette of many colors

Translation plays an important role in our lives. It enriches human life by making it possible to communicate and share information across language borders. For example, religions and knowledge have spread via translated texts throughout history. Every book and study has been written by someone in some language. In fact, the majority of the overall information that we have today is collected piece by piece through translation. However, nowadays, in the modern and globalized world we live in, there is even a greater need for translation. The demand for translation has become more in recent years due to the increase in the exchange of information between various regions using different regional languages. And thanks to technology improvements, we can rely on online translation tools for quick and easy translations. In fact, more and more businesses operating in different sectors have begun to use online translators as they can benefit from many translation projects. But how exactly do online translators work and what kinds of different types exist? Online machine translation is an automatically done translation through a software program without human assistance. It has recently been at the center of controversies regarding reliability and quality, but few people know that there are actually different types of online translators, including rule-based, statistical, example-based, neural, as well as hybrid ones.


  • Rule-based online translators

As the name implies, rule-based online translation is mostly based on grammar rules. It works in such a way that the system generates sentences in a target language after analyzing grammatically both the source and the target languages involved. This is, for example, what Systran does (SYSTRAN, founded by Dr. Peter Toma in 1968, is one of the oldest machine translation companies. It is the very first free online translator providing in-domain translation models trained by a network of worldwide experts. Its headquarters is now in Paris, France.) These software programs usually require tedious proofreading, and as they need a lot of lexicons, they only become efficient after long-term use. The main rule-based translation paradigms can be further classified into three different types: transfer-based translation, interlingual translation, and dictionary-based translation paradigms.

According to the interlingual translation approach, the source language, also known as the text to be translated is transformed into an interlingual, i.e. language-independent, representation. The target language, or the language we want to translate to, is then generated out of the interlingua. One of the major advantages of this system is that the interlingua becomes more valuable as the number of target languages can be increased.

The obvious disadvantage is that the definition of an interlingual is difficult and maybe even impossible for a wider domain. The ideal context for interlingual translation is thus multilingual machine translation in a very specific domain.

However, the only interlingual machine translation system that has been made operational at the commercial level is the KANT system, which is designed to translate Caterpillar Technical English into other languages.

Using Caterpillar texts has the advantage of having an enormous load of already translated texts, and the fact that CTE is rather limited in scope: it only has to deal with technical language for heavy mobile equipment. Using it to translate other subject matters, however, would be very disastrous.


The transfer-based translation approach is basically an alternative to the interlingual approach that creates a translation from an intermediate representation that simulates the meaning of the original sentence. Unlike interlingual translation, the transfer-based online translation depends partially on the language pair involved in the translation.


Last but not least, the dictionary-based system uses a method based on dictionary entries which means that the words will be translated from the source language to the target language as they are in a dictionary. This will make clear, of course, that a pure dictionary-based translator from the rule-based family can only give word-for-word translations, and therefore rather mediocre results. That is the reason why dictionary-based translators are not used in business.


  • Example-based online translators

Machine translation, also known as online translation, is all about providing a computer or another type of device with the main task of transferring one natural language to another. This is done in many different ways. Among those different ways, example-based online translation has received a lot of positive attention in the recent past.

At the foundation of example-based machine translation is the idea of translation by analogy. Unlike rule-based online translation, the principle of example-based translation is to suppose that there are already existing translations. Basically, this type of online translator rests on the idea that similar sentences will have a similar translation. It uses past translation examples to generate a translation for a source-language text. The system maintains an example base that consists of translation examples. When a source language sentence is given to the system, the system retrieves a similar sentence from the example base with its translation. Then it adapts the example to generate a translated input sentence. Here, the system responsible for translations is provided with a set of sentences within the source language. Then the corresponding translations in the target language are also provided to the system. What is more, they work as examples for translations and will be used for future translations, hence the name of the translator type. Along with that, the system will be able to keep an eye on the examples and proceed with getting translation work done at the end of the day. This a very effective method of translating text from one language to another.


  • Statistical online translators

Statistical Machine Translation and Statistical Online Translation tools have been on the translation scene for some time now. Since its creation, Statistical Translation has proved itself to be an invaluable method that has shaped the field into what it is today. Statistical online translation occurs by analyzing existing human translations (known as bilingual text corpora). This is, for example, what Google Translate does.

Based on the subject matter text that is used to train a corpus, Statistical Translation will be best suited for documents about the same subject. Usually, a solid corpus requires 100 million words and one million aligned sentences to be effective.

Statistical online translators can be approached through different subgroups: word-based, phrase-based, syntax-based, and hierarchical phrase-based.

However, most modern statistical translation systems are phrase-based and assemble translations using overlap phrases. In phrase-based translation, the aim is to reduce the restrictions of word-based translation by translating whole sequences of words where the lengths may differ. The sequences of words are called phrases, but typically they are phrases found using statistical methods from bilingual text corpora.


  • Hybrid online translators

Hybrid online translators are a mix of rule-based and statistical translators that are tied together in such a way that translation is performed using a rule-based engine, involving a statistical attempt to adjust and/or correct the output from the rule engine.

Thus, it produces translations of higher and better quality. In fact, this particular translation tool can be used by translators to avoid translating the exact same sentence twice. However, linguists still doubt that this tool can help achieve higher-quality translations or gain time because of the long editing part.


  • Neural online translators

The neural online translation approach uses neural networks to achieve machine translation. Compared to the previous models, neural translation can be built with one network instead of a pipeline of separate tasks. The neural translation systems are made up of artificial neurons, connected to each other and organized in layers. They are inspired by biological neural networks, capable of learning on their own from the data they receive each time someone translates a text.

The actual “learning” process, which is repeated during every new translation, consists of modifying the weight of the artificial neurons to constantly optimize the weights and thus the quality of the following translations. Neural Machine Translation systems work with bilingual corpuses of source and target documents that were translated in the past.

Well-known online translators which are also neural translators are Google Translate, Microsoft Translate, Translation on Facebook, as well as OpenNMT.


Technology at its best: Using online translators as teaching tools

In the last decade, both the importance and popularity of online language translators has grown a lot. People from vastly different geographical zones as well as educational backgrounds are more inclined to use such online translation tools to both understand and learn a foreign language. Can you even try to imagine today’s dynamic world without оnline translators? Well, it would all be very different without them. And when it comes to learning foreign languages, translation is considered a useful part of the process. Online translation may allow you to develop your vocabulary and grammar knowledge. What is more, foreign language learners frequently use online translation to facilitate language learning and to acquire a new language. Even though the translation has played different roles in various methods of language teaching for students from different social backgrounds, translation is considered a very powerful tool to help students more confidently understand foreign words and expressions and express ideas in the target language. That being said, today’s well-known online translation tools and specifically free online translators, such as Google Translate or Bing Translate, can be seen as very good assistants for students in learning new phrases and expressions in the target language. Students may use online translators to communicate meaning to others, on the one hand, and as a problem-solving exercise, in which they develop their capabilities in data analysis and processing, on the other hand.

Enhancing language skills, particularly reading, writing, listening, and speaking, online translators are helpful for students in acquiring writing skills, facilitating their comprehension, developing and expressing ideas in a foreign language in a fast and easy way, and increasing their motivation to learn. Students can use online translation tools to make more gains in learning vocabulary, phrases, different idioms, and to improve their grammar in a foreign language.


Last but not least: Online translators and potential copyright issues

Not only for educational purposes but for many other reasons, too, online translation tools have become both indispensable and very popular worldwide. They have caused a sweeping change in the translation market. Translators are now no longer restricted to hardcopy dictionaries and glossaries. Today, one can carry just one electronic device that can be connected to the Internet and use online translators instead. Additionally, the Internet we rely on so much nowadays gives us almost unlimited opportunities, both in terms of access to knowledge and dissemination of information.

Combining those facts, it is no surprise that today, a large number of people who have access to the Internet and different types of available online translators have gradually increased their interest in publishing popular articles, blogs, as well as news on their websites after translating them into a different language using online translation tools. The problem is that with so many people translating content, unauthorized use of someone else's content is now just a copy-paste away. In fact, during the translation process using online translators, an issue of copyright infringement and plagiarism may arise.

For instance, consider the following scenario:

1. Person A writes an article in Hindi and posts it on a certain local news website.

2. After a while, Person B sees the article, finds it interesting and appropriate for his website, translates it into English using an online translator, let’s say Google Translate for example, and posts the translated one as a newspaper article on his own website without giving any credit to Person A, or providing a link back to Person A's website.


So, the question here would be: Is Person B actually infringing Person A's copyright?


Тhis is, in fact, a quite common situation in the online world. Copyright infringement and plagiarism existed long before the Internet became a household name. Today, with the help you can get from the ever-developing technology in translation, such as the variety of free online translators, many websites tend to translate news articles and interviews from another language into English or the local language and proceed to publish them on their website. But is this action right and legal or is this rather an infringement on the original author's copyright?

Many people would say that Person B is, without any doubt, infringing Person A's copyrights because without providing any credit to the translated article's original author, readers would, of course, assume Person B is the author. And this is where plagiarism comes into play.

In fact, it is very easy for one to duplicate or ‘steal’ other people's original work with today's translation technology. But the risks of using copyrighted material is definitely one you would not like to take because the consequences might be very serious. 

So, how can one avoid copyright infringement and plagiarism and safeguard the rights and interests of the original other while translating a text, an article, an academic paper, news, or any other type of document posted on the Internet using online translators? What does one need to be aware of when translating online?


  • Know the copyright for translated content

In machine and online translation, as mentioned earlier, the language to be used as a base for the translation is called “source language”, or the original language, and the language that is translated to is called “target language”. Therefore, when an article, news from newspaper magazines, a book, or any type of written work is translated from one language to another, it becomes a brand-new work. That way, the person who made the translation enjoys copyright of the new, translated product alone. The translator has the copyright in the translated version, but the translator should still mind and respect the personal rights of the author of the original work and should retain the originality in translation. At the same time, the new copyright authorization should also be limited to the scope of the original copyright and should not be misused.


  • Try to look for materials from the Public Domain

There are many sources for free-to-use materials under the Public Domain. Search for the ones with Creative Commons licensing which can be commercially viable. If the work exists in the public domain, then a translation automatically retains copyright as an original work.


  • Always assume there is copyright!

When translating any kind of text using online translators, it is always better and safer to assume that the work is protected under copyright laws. If one is not able to find a statement confirming that the document or the original text is for public use, there is still a good chance that someone already owns the rights to it. Therefore, it would be a good idea to get written consent from the copyright holder first in case you would like to use the original material for public translation. Just contact the copyright holder to make a deal or negotiate its use.

However, if you are also aware of your rights under Fair Use, you can still freely take advantage of original work for non-commercial endeavors if you cannot obtain consent. But you need to consider a few variables that might affect your usage. Before taking someone’s work, ask yourself how your use will impact its value in the market. Always be cautious and consult a legal expert on copyright laws when in doubt.

online translators
artificial intelligence
translation technology
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