I have been using the machine translator Google Translate for English <==> Chinese translation for the last few years. While many of the translated text are still laughably bad and cannot/should not be trusted blindly, some of the results have improved significantly. Some of the results are “useable” now if you just need a “quick and rough” translation and don’t have time nor money for more professional help.
One thing I am impressed with is Google Translate‘s ability to pronounce almost fluent Chinese (Mandarin dialect) (the “Listen” tool). Trust me, I don’t get impressed easily but I think the Google Translate development team has done a professional job with the pronunciation. How good is it? I think its pronunciation is good enough to help some beginners to improve their Mandarin speaking skills. It is free and worth giving it a try.
Jibbigo is a “speech-to-speech translation app for your mobile device. You talk in one language, it talks back in the other. […] No data charges required–just your voice. Jibbigo is available in eight different language pairs on iTunes and the Android Market.”
Machine translation is a very difficult problem even for desktop/large computers. I see translation in three levels of difficulties, beginning with the hard problem of text-to-text translation, then speech-to-text translation, and the toughest one is speech-to-speech translation (the one Jibbigo tries to do). Why? Because speech-to-speech translation requires,
1) the original (e.g. English/Chinese) human voice be recognized and converted correctly into (English/Chinese) text;
2) the translation of recognized text into target language text (Chinese/English) be performed correctly (very hard in itself); and
3) the translated target text being read out in the target language correctly (should be easier but not always as you will see here).
I’ve spent days and many hours testing and exploring the Jibbigo iPad app (feeling like testing software in one of my previous jobs). The following is my review plus an edited video highlighting some of the tests I’ve conducted.
*** The Good/OK ***
* Translation of simple greetings (“Good morning.”, “Good Afternoon.” etc) were done correctly most of the time.
* Some simple English sentences were picked up and translated to Chinese correctly.
(e.g. “How much?” ==> “多少钱？”; “How about two million five hundred thousand dollars?” was translated to “2500000美元怎样？” (note: ; 2500000 was read as 2 million, 500 thousands); “Do you have orange juice?” ==> “有橙汁吗？”; “I live in Canada.” ==> “我住在加拿大。”)
* Jibbigo allows user to enter names and their Chinese translations. For example, I entered my name Kempton and my name in Chinese. Jibbigo was able to recognize my name “Kempton” in English and translated it to Chinese. Unfortunately, Jibbigo failed to pronounce my Chinese name correctly. More on this in the next section.
* Some simple sentences were translated somewhat correctly.
(e.g. “What time do I need to get up in the morning?” was translated to “我想要什么时候起床？” The translation missed the word “morning” “早晨/早上” and confused “need to” with “想要” (the word for “wish to”).
“Where can I rent a car?” was translated to “我在哪能租车吗？” . This Chinese translation is understandable but a better one may be “我在哪里可以租到车？” since the “吗” at the end is not really necessary. And being the picky me, I think “哪里可以” is stylistically better than “哪能”.
* To “protect” the user :), Jibbigo won’t display or translate profanities. So if you said “F*ck off!”, the Jibbigo will show it detected/picked up “<beep> off.” and actually create a beep and display “<beep>.” instead of doing any Chinese translation!
*** The Bad/Not-so-good ***
* The simple sentence of “Do you have steak?” was translated to the non-sensical “你有排怎么做？” instead of the correct one of “你有牛排吗？”.
* “I am having steak for dinner.” was incorrectly translated to “我的牛排吗。”, missing the word/idea of “dinner” and adding the question word “吗” for no good reason. A better translation may be “我的晚餐是牛排。” or “我吃牛排晚餐。”
* “The machine part number is 123456789.” was translated to “这个机器号码是123456789分。” The last word “分” is not needed and indeed confusing and misleading.
* “How much is your machine?” was badly translated to “你是多少钱？” meaning “How much are YOU?” Jibbigo missed the important word of “machine”. A better translation is “你的机器是多少钱？”
* “I need it next month.” was incorrectly translated to “我需要它。” missing the translation for “next month”. A better translation may be “我下个月需要它。”
* I think this one may be tough but important to crack. Jibbigo has problems with proper nouns. e.g. “China Airlines.” was translated to “中国航空公司。” when the proper Chinese name for this Taiwan-based airline is “中華航空公司”. Imagine, someone at the airport trying to fly “中国航空公司” and being told there is no such airline!
* “How about two million Canadian dollars?” was badly translated to “加2500000美元吗？”, misplacing the word “加” (for Canada?) and missing the fact that it is “Canadian dollars” and not US dollars “美元”. The correct translation should be “2500000加元怎样？”
* When the Chinese tester said hello and her Chinese name (which was entered into Jibbigo), the app picked up, “你好。我交换怀孕。” and translated the words to, “Hello. I am exchange.” Jibbigo goofed badly because “交换” and “怀孕” are the words for “exchange” and “pregnant”, very far off from her name!
* “Bee” was translated as “啤酒”, the words for “beer”! The correct Chinese words for bee are “蜜蜂”.
* And for some strange reason, Jibbigo failed to translate the following list of words when they were said individually. “Talk, Speak, Speaking, Love, Month,
*** Software stability problems and errors ***
* When iPad went into sleep/auto-lock mode (I set my iPad to go to sleep in 5 minutes) while Jibbigo is running, it will crash and will fail to record voice/function properly when the iPad is woken up.
*** Concluding comments ***
As a computer geek and someone who wants to see Jibbigo‘s technology working, I am disappointed to find Jibbigo failed to work as advertised. Based on my extensive testing, I cannot recommend Jibbigo. And as one Jibbigo user commented in his review, “I wouldn’t dare use this on a trip for fear of getting laughed at or smacked!“. To be truthful, I don’t think he was being excessively harsh.
I think the Jibbigo English to Chinese translation app development team needs to spend some time in resolving the various translation and stability problems in the current version of the software (Jan 21, 2011, Version 1.12226). I wish the Jibbigo team the best of luck.
P.S. The user can choose one of two language pairs, “English International <==> Chinese” or “English USA/Canada <==> Chinese”, I picked Canadian English.
Love to hear in the comments section if any readers also find this news funny.
P.S. I am normally not a betting man (unless the odds are with me), in this case, I am willing to bet $10 that, within the about IPO price range, there will at least be two prices that will NOT be used. :)
VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Canadian-bred Chinese curling coach Dan Rafael is so furious with what he calls a lack of passion by his players he said he plans to quit coaching this group once his contract is up. [Kempton: If this is Dan’s way to motivate his team, it might have worked. Will see.] Read the rest of this entry »
P.S. It should be noted that the word “隨” took me a long time to write without success in the above demo. Since it would be rather boring for you and me to see me write the word “隨” for much of the demo, I eventually gave up after trying for about 38 seconds. As for the rather simple word “生”, I got stuck again. It proves that sometimes simple words also tricks me.
I think sometimes it was my pen stroke and other problems that lead to the system missing the words.
P.P.S. For the record, in this demo, I used Snow Leopard 10.6.1. This video is shown in real time, only two edits were made for the words “隨” and “生” to make it fit into the YouTube 10 minute per video limitation.
P.P.P.S. By the way, here are the words I typed in the demo.