Archive for the ‘Russian Text and Writing’ category


September 18th, 2009

In the previous article on Russian text issues, I discussed the shortcomings of computers when it comes to translating Russian text. Luckily there’s a few tricks we can use when going from English to Russian text. First:

Keep it simple.

English has far more tenses than Russian does, and they cause difficulty even for human translators. “I had been considering buying a new car, but then thought better of it.” That’s a nice sentence in English, but it’s tough for translating programs. Simplifying, you can still get across a similar message: “I was considering buying a new car, but I decided not to get one.” Even that will cause problems, but it will be clearer. (The problem is with the final word “one.” You and I know that ‘one’ refers to a car. The computer has no idea.)

Along with simplifying, try to avoid idioms at all costs. True, idioms liven up a language and can add deep meaning in a few words, but they lose all the deep meaning in translation. If someone asks you what you think of your new teacher, Ms. Hamilton, and you say, “Man, she sucks!”…think of the literal ramifications of this response. It changes from an innocent, idiomatic complaint into an R rated statement about Ms. Hamilton’s private life.

Mind you, it’s hard to avoid idiomatic speech. It’s ubiquitous and natural. Speaking without it makes you sound robotic…

…the very kind of text that computers are decent at working with.

The way to avoid idioms is to ask if any of the words in a phrase have more than one meaning. If yes, you might be using an idiom. If a word indeed has two or more meanings, be aware that it will most likely be translated with the first dictionary meaning. If Ms. Hamilton is a bad teacher, try to avoid saying that, “As a teacher, she stinks!” Inevitably, the translation will ascribe to our beleaguered Ms. Hamilton as having a foul stench.

So, if it’s vital you get your message across – and when isn’t it? – then try writing like a first grader. Before you put your English text into Russian using a translation program, imitate this kind of grade-school writing:

This is my teacher, Ms. Hamilton. She is nice. She makes lots of cookies. Can you come to her class on Monday?

Following this style, we can write a business letter to our Russian colleague:

This is my business proposal, Pipeline Retrofitting. It is ready. We will make lots of money. Can you sign the contract on Monday?

That’s the trick to working with translating programs. In a perfect world, you’d use a human translator, but keeping things simple and idiom free is the best way to work with translation programs.

Russian Language Text translator
Here’s another that is multi-language including English to Russian text.

Good luck!


September 17th, 2009

Russian is a difficult task for translating programs. Perhaps all languages are hard to translate – I can’t say, because Russian is the only foreign language I know – but Russian certainly comes out of those programs looking far stranger than it really is. Much of that is due to idiomatic speech. After all, if a Russian person looks up the word-for-word meaning of, say, “You’re driving me up a wall!” they’re going to think you’re taking them in your car, up along the side of a building. Dictionaries and idioms don’t work well together. Unfortunately, a dictionary is all a computer has and it doesn’t usually produce perfect Russian text.

In Russian, there’s a common idiom, “Ты даёшь!” (ti dayosh), which has a meaning of, “Oh, come on now! You’re such a _____ .” But computers are literal beasts, searching for the dictionary meaning of each word, not able to step back and take in the whole phrase. Thus, they translate the literal meaning of the two words, which is “You give.”

Sure, a program could be changed so that, “Oh, come on now!” is the definition of “Ты даёшь!” but then the computer would inevitably give that translation every time…even when the literal meaning of “you give” is intended. Computers just don’t know when the idiomatic meaning is intended, and when the literal one is.

Basically, Russian text is hard to translate with computers because meaning has to be deduced from context, and computers are awful at this. Another way of looking at it is this:

What is the definition of “Whatever” ?

No fair checking an online dictionary. Think for yourself. Heck, you probably use the word 100 times a day, so what do you mean by it?

“Bartender, gimme a beer.”

“Not sure what we have left, sir.”

“I’ll take whatever.”

So, ‘whatever’ means, ‘anything’…at least in that situation. But later, you’re talking with a friend. “Eww, you kissed Sally? She’s gross!”

“Oh, whatever. You’re just jealous.”

Here, ‘whatever’ means, “I disagree with what you’re saying, but I don’t want to argue.” If you insert the word ‘anything’ in place of ‘whatever’, it won’t make sense.

Finally, here’s a simply test you can give to an y computer translator. Write a few typical lines of dialogue in English. Insert into a translating program. Have it translate to Russian, then cut and paste the result back into the translator, going now from Russian back to English. If you send people Russian text that you translated from English using a computer, the results will be unreadable, and usually hilarious. Try it with mine, below. Go to goole’s translator, for example (or one of your own choosing) and insert this text:

She asked me what I was up for doing and I’m like, “Whatever.”

Translated into Russian, you get this:

Она спросила меня, что я вскочил на ноги за это, и я хотел, “Все”.

And translating that back into English, here’s our original sentence:

She asked me what I got to his feet for it, and I would like, “All.”

I think now you’re seeing the difficulty of dealing with Russian text. In the next article, I’ll give some tips and tricks to dealing with computer translators!

Cheers from Sevastopol!