Using Google Translate for international projects


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.

  1. Go to
  2. Click on the red icon with the “up” arrow to upload the spreadsheet
  3. Open the spreadsheet in Google Drive
  4. Click on Tools -> Script Gallery, and enter “translate” in the search box
  5. Install the “Translate sheet – any to English” script
  6. Click on Tools -> Script Manager, and Run both options
  7. There will now be a new menu item called Script
  8. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-08-23

  • Cheating in online learning. Balanced viewpoint from Tony Bates #
  • Went back 2 Thunderbird after using Kmail for a few years. Really impressed with how it’s developed, I’m actually enjoying managing my email #
  • RT @alastairotter: How the Internet is changing language #
  • @nlafferty Used 2 use Zotero until I tried Mendeley, which supported PDF import at the time. I’d love 2 try it again, but no chromium plugin in reply to nlafferty #
  • Sadly, it looks like there’s no intention to port Zotero to #chromium & I’m not switching browsers just to get it #
  • Zotero Basics: Getting Stuff Into Zotero I’m always intrigued with Zotero, I just can’t get into using it #
  • Some simple points of advice on professional online behaviour for health professionals, from @rachaellowe #
  • Teaching Professor: Thinking constructively about teaching problems #
  • Beautiful drawings / paintings on the iPad. So much for the notion that it’s not a device for creation #
  • Technology for 21st Century Learning: Part 2 (But is it a Literacy Machine?). Using the iPad in education #
  • @paulscott56 “Major design flaw upsets millions”. Could be a story about Facebook or twifficiency #
  • 17-Year Old Twitter Spammer Scores Facebook CEO as New Friend #
  • 08/9/10 PHD comic: ‘The Repulsor Field Explained’ (humour) #
  • Dissertation Myth # 9: It Will Ruin Your Life. Great points to put your research into perspective #
  • RT @jamescun: OK. Twifficiency shouldn’t tweet your score automatically :/ Error on my behalf, I was just learning to use oAuth 🙁 #
  • RT @allankent: you know what would be awesome? If #twifficiency prompted me before sticking crap in my timeline. #fail #
  • @cristinacost I spent some time in Hay-on-Wye when I was in the UK a few years ago. Really beautiful walks in & around town in reply to cristinacost #
  • Sadly, Twifficiency is a trending topic on the home page, we can probably count on a lot more spam coming through 🙁 #
  • I don’t think I’ve ever seen an app (#Twifficiency in this case) generate so much bad feeling in such a short space of time #
  • RT @andrewspong: Deleted the Twifficiency tweet from my feed in case others see it later, & amplify the spam. You may wish to do the same. #
  • RT @cwcrawley: So all of you who did twiffiency – Go into profile & ‘revoke’ access to the app. That’ll stop it spamming in future #security #
  • Facebook, By the Numbers. Interesting infographic looking at the rise of Facebook over the past few years #
  • I *hate* it when services / applications tweet on my behalf without asking me, as was the case a minute ago with #Twifficiency #
  • My Twifficiency score is 43%. Whats yours? #
  • RT @wesleylynch:RT @shapshak: Africa’s tech start-ups break ground: iSigned (@garethochse) & Cognition (@patrickkayton) #
  • Looking 4 Buddypress-Activity-stream-type threaded conversation tool. Must be hosted & not need registration. Suggestions? #
  • RT @sharingnicely: RT @myzt: The main idea of “Inception”: if you run a VM inside a VM inside a VM inside a VM, everything will be very slow #
  • @weblearning Just had a look now, thanks. Not sure if it “fits”. I already follow everyone I email. More likely to “find” people elsewhere in reply to weblearning #
  • @weblearning Installed #Rapportive a while ago & it has yet 2 return any info behind the email…maybe that says more about who emails me 🙂 in reply to weblearning #

KDE 4.3 is awesome

It’s been a busy few weeks at the university, with mid-year assessment (in all it’s various forms) having to take precedence over everything else.  Now that it’s over and students are on holiday, I’ve finally gotten around to doing the things I’ve been putting off for a while…like installing the beta version of KDE 4.3 on Kubuntu Jaunty.

The 4.x series of the desktop is getting more and more impressive with every iteration, so much so that I felt I needed to put it on show a little.  I’ve been playing around with it for a few days now and while it’s still a little buggy, it’s stable enough for me.  In this post, I’m going to go through some of the applications I use most often, and give my own thoughts about why I’m loving this update.

Desktop showing the Lancelot menu
Desktop showing the Lancelot menu
Folder view with expanding folders
Folder view with expanding folders

Desktop.  The Folder view widgets on the desktop do a great job of keeping it clean and useful, and I love the way they expand on mouseover to make navigation really easy and intuitive.  The Lancelot menu is brilliant, keeping unused applications out of the way, but making it simple to find them when needed.

Dolphin file manager with Konsole view (bottom)
Dolphin file manager with Konsole view (bottom)
Dolphin file manager with Split pane, Information, Places and File tree views
Dolphin file manager with Split pane, Information, Places and File tree views

File management.  There was a lot of controversy when the KDE developers decided to
create Dolphin and replace Konqueror as the default file manager, but it was clearly the right move.  There are a couple of things that I love about Dolphin, including the Information side panel, split view mode, Terminal view and the integration of Nepomuk semantic search. word processor word processor

Work stuff.  I tried using KOffice2 even though it’s a platform release (because it looks so very cool), but there are a few issues that keep me from switching from, the main one being that it doesn’t support OpenDocument or MS Word files as well as OpenOffice does, and the fonts look terrible.

BasKet note taking application (showing default example)
BasKet note taking application (showing default example)

I’ve installed and am using BasKet notepads for my note taking application, which unfortunately is still a KDE 3.5 application.  There were some concerns about the project stalling when the lead developer decided that he couldn’t continue maintaining it, but it seems as if it’s been taken up by others and may yet have a future.  I hope so because it’s a great application, even in it’s current state.  A project to watch out for in this field is SemNotes, a semantic note taking application being built on Nepomuk (see here for screencast).

Okular universal file viewer (showing PDF with annotations)
Okular universal file viewer (showing PDF with annotations)

Okular is a universal document viewer, although I don’t use if for much other than PDFs.  The feature I like most is the ability to annotate documents, although the default colour scheme of the notes isn”t great.

Calendar in Kontact
Calendar in Kontact

I used to use Kontact for email for the longest time but then I switched to Thunderbird for a while, then Spicebird and finally back to Kontact.  In terms of functionality, nothing comes close to it right now.  I’d like to say that I use Akkregator for my feeds, but it’s missing something that I can’t quite put my finger on.  The interface also hasn’t changed much in the past few years and it seems very slow.

Firefox web browser
Firefox web browser

I have to admit that I’m using the 3.5 preview release of Firefox as the web browser, rather than Konqueror.  While Konqueror was awesome a few years ago, it hasn’t kept up with the changes on the web, and is really starting to show it’s age.  There’s a lot happening at Mozilla that Konqueror jsut can’t keep up with and unless there’s a radical change of pace in it’s development, I can’t imagine using it again.

Amarok media player
Amarok media player

Multimedia.  I’m always switching between different media players, but generally I’ve been keen on Songbird and Amarok for managing my whole library, and Audacious as a light-weight player for quickly playing single files.  Gwenview (the image viewer) has been given an overhaul and

Gwenview in Browse mode with Information side panel on view
Gwenview in Browse mode with Information side panel on view

does a brilliant job of managing image libraries.  Amarok is a bit buggy right now (although I am running the beta version of 2.1) and it’s still lacking some functionality that was present in 1 (the port to Qt4 means a lot of catching up has to be done), which is why I use Songbird on occasion.  But as with other KDE apps right now, it’s in a state of transition and every release is building on the solid platform that was laid down with 2.0.

Marble desktop globe showing satelite view
Marble desktop globe showing satelite view

Marble.  This is a great tool that’s something along the lines of Google Earth and Maps, but it’s open and a native KDE application.  I’ve included these screenshots showing a satelite view, as well as a

Marble desktop globe showing Open Streetmap view
Marble desktop globe showing Open Streetmap view

street view using Open Streetmap.  It’s already got Wikipedia and Flickr integration for additional information, as well as being able to overlay additional data, like temperature and precipitation maps.  It’s a young project that’s come really far and has the capability to be incorporated into other KDE apps, like using it together with geo-tagging photos in Digikam.

The one thing that I can’t find anywhere is a decent podcast catcher…something like Gpodder for Gnome, but native to KDE.  I know that Amarok has one but it’s not working for me and besides, it’s lacking the finishing touches that would win me over.  Little things like being able to read a summary of the podcast would be so useful but is currently impossible.

I’m also not a fan of Kpackagekit, as it’s still very much in development and doesn’t always work very well.  Generally the command line is quicker anyway, but there’s always Synaptic if a GUI is needed.

Anyway, that’s a brief overview of some of the apps that i use and while most of them are still in beta, there’s so much happening in KDE right now that this post will be outdated very shortly.  Sigh…

If you’re interested in following the developments in KDE, check out KDE.News