In preparation for the FAIMER residential session in Brazil, the coordinators spent months sharing documentation and ideas, and discussing every detail that goes into planning something like this…and they’ve been doing it in Portuguese. Initially I thought that this would mean I’d have no idea what was going on until I got there, but then I remembered that Google Translate is integrated into most, if not all of Google’s products and thought I’d see what was possible to follow in the planning process.
Google Groups and Gmail have built in translation services, which mean that whenever a message gets posted in a language that’s different to your default, Google offers to translate the page. And not only that, it offers to translate it every time you get a new message. Now, the translation isn’t perfect and the service will help you to understand the general content and context of a message but is not always accurate. Some words are not translated and some look like gibberish (this is probably because of how Google does the translation). But, as I say, it’s close enough to be very useful.
So that’s fine for Gmail in the browser but I also use Thunderbird as an offline mail client, which doesn’t have built-in translation. Luckily it supports extensions and I managed to find one that uses Google’s translation API, which I use to translate my offline messages as well.
So far so good. But what about documents and spreadsheets? With almost every email that came through there was an attached Word document or spreadsheet. Using Translate in Google Docs was easy enough. After opening the Word document in Drive, click on the Tools menu item and choose “Translate document” in the dropdown.
Sheets was bit trickier, requiring me to dig around for a bit in the scripts menu. However, once I figured out the process, it was simple enough to do it every time I needed to translate a document. Note that these instructions will become obsolete when Google changes how Sheets work, and that this process is assuming that you have a local spreadsheet you want to translate.
- Go to www.drive.google.com
- Click on the red icon with the “up” arrow to upload the spreadsheet
- Open the spreadsheet in Google Drive
- Click on Tools -> Script Gallery, and enter “translate” in the search box
- Install the “Translate sheet – any to English” script
- Click on Tools -> Script Manager, and Run both options
- There will now be a new menu item called Script
- After uploading new documents, you can click on Script -> Translate, and it will convert the document into English
For all of Google’s translation services, it’s important to remember that it’s not perfect, and will take some time before it’s seamless. The translation sometimes read as if it’s been done word-for-word without taking grammar into account, which means that while you can figure out what is being discussed, the conversation doesn’t flow naturally.
Besides becoming more familiar with Google Translate, there were few other things that I learned from this experience:
- Not everyone speaks English. Now, I obviously knew this on a cognitive level but when everyone around me speaks my own language all the time, I don’t really think about it.
- As more and more people use Google’s translation and voice services, their API is going to keep getting better, until eventually real-time translation with a decent Internet connection will be commonplace. Soon enough, we’ll get to a point where language isn’t a barrier to learning and commerce the way it is now. You’ll speak and write your language, and I’ll receive the message in mine – the translation will happen in real time.
- Understanding language is different to understanding culture. Just because I can understand what you’re writing doesn’t mean I’ll understand how you’re thinking.
Finally, I’ve just agreed to supervise a student from Libya who will be doing his Masters thesis in physiotherapy in my department. I’m interested to see if integrating his workflow into Google’s services and apps will help us to work together. Stay tuned.