In a previous post (Progress in Machine Translation – Backtranslation samples then and now), I used the technique of backtranslation to demonstrate the progress of machine translation over the last few years. In this post, I am using the same technique in an opposite way, to show how far machine translation still has to go. It’s also a great way to make fun of machine translation for those who relish this activity.
The website translationparty.com presents a simple concept. Enter an English phrase. The site translates it to Japanese, back to English, (backtranslation) back to Japanese, etc. in a loop until either the English phrase no longer changes (equilibrium state), or else it is looping through a series of repetitive phrases. What great fun!
Let’s take a few examples of quotes from Shakespeare:
Original English: “To be or not to be, that is the question.”
Equilibrium state after three iterations: “However, it is not a problem.” (Something seems to be lost in translation!)
Second example: “Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments. Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds, or bends with the remover to remove”
Equilibrium after 13 iterations: “It doesn’t really look love marriage HF. tamper detection change delete.” (Delete that false lover! The machine appears to have understood perfectly.)
On the other hand, I tried this phrase: “This program makes fun of machine translation”. Ironically, the first backtranslation is immediately perfect: “This program makes fun of machine translation”.
The moral of the story: at the present time, if you want to use machine translation effectively, keep it simple, and avoid Shakespeare.