FREE Online Language Translation Services

There are several free online language translation services available including Yahoo Babelfish, Google Language Tools and SDL International’s freetranslation.com, this article summarises their offerings and tries to give an idea of where machine translation of text between languages is headed.

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Yahoo has recently relaunched Yahoo Babelfish, a new version of the venerable babelfish.altavista.com free online translation service. Both are powered by Systransoft.

The Babel fish is a fictional species of fish in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. According to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

The Babel fish is small, yellow and leechlike, and probably the oddest thing in the Universe. It feeds on brainwave energy received not from its own carrier but from those around it. It absorbs all unconscious mental frequencies from this brainwave energy to nourish itself with. It then excretes into the mind of its carrier a telepathic matrix formed by combining the conscious thought frequencies with nerve signals picked up from the speech centers of the brain which has supplied them. The practical upshot of all this is that if you stick a Babel fish in your ear you can instantly understand anything said to you in any form of language. The speech patterns you actually hear decode the brainwave matrix which has been fed into your mind by your Babel fish.

Yahoo bought Overture a while ago and Overture had previously purchased Altavista so Yahoo was able to use the existing system setup at babelfish.altavista.com and revamp it a bit, adding “Two more language pair choices: Simplified Chinese into Traditional Chinese, and Traditional Chinese into Simplified Chinese”

The total translation choices offered by Yahoo Babelfish (powered by Systran) are:

letters of the alphabet

  • Chinese-simp to English,Chinese-trad
  • Chinese-trad to English,Chinese-simp
  • Japanese to English
  • Korean to English
  • English to Chinese-simp, Chinese-trad, Japanese, Korean
  • English to Dutch, French, German, Greek, Italian, Portuguese, Russian
  • Dutch to English, French
  • French to Dutch, English, German, Greek, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish
  • German to English, French
  • Greek to English, French
  • Italian to English, French
  • Russian to English
  • Portuguese to English, French
  • Spanish to English, French

Another free online translation service is offered by SDL International’s freetranslation.com which offers fewer languages (listed below), but could be more more useful to business users who want text translated by professional paid translation services charged on a per word basis.

SDL International’s freetranslation.com Languages include:

  • English to Spanish, French, German, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese, Russian, Norwegian, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese
  • Spanish, French, German, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese and Russian to English

Last but not least is Google Language Tools which is powered by Google Lab’s research into Machine Translation.

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Google Translation Languages include:

  • English to German, Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, Arabic, Japanese, Korean, Chinese (Simplified)
  • Gerrman to English, French
  • Spanish to English
  • French to English, German
  • Italian to English
  • Portuguese to English
  • Arabic to English
  • Japanese to English
  • Korean to English
  • Chinese (Simplified) to English

Of all the free translation services featured in this article, my bet is that because of the sheer amount of time, smart people and money invested by Google, Google Language Tools will offer more language pairs and translate with an increasingly higher degree of accuracy over time than its competitors.

Some other interesting articles about machine translation of text between languages with a spotlight on Google’s efforts can be found below:

… When you surf the web, you will sometimes come across languages and characters you don’t understand – like Chinese, Arabic, Korean, French, German, Italian, Spanish, or Japanese. Would you be able to fluently read these languages, those sites wouldn’t be a dead end for you. You would discover a wealth of knowledge, and more importantly, opinions…

… At the recent web cast of the Google Factory Tour, researcher Franz Och presented the current state of the Google Machine Translation Systems … A sentence in Arabic which is now being translated to a nonsensical “Alpine white new presence tape registered for coffee confirms Laden” is now in the Research Labs being translated to “The White House Confirmed the Existence of a New Bin Laden Tape.” …

… How do they do that? It’s certainly complex to program such a system, but the underlying principle is easy – so easy in fact that the researchers working on this enabled the system to translate from Chinese to English without any researcher being able to speak Chinese. To the translation system, any language is treated the same, and there is no manually created rule-set of grammar, metaphors and such. Instead, the system is learning from existing human translations. Google relies on a large corpus of texts which are available in multiple languages … Google used the United Nations Documents to train their machine, and all in all fed 200 billion words. This is brute force AI, if you want – it works on statistical learning theory only and has not much real “understanding” of anything but patterns…
Excerpts from – Google Translator: The Universal Language%

Search giant Google’s ambitions to make the Web more international has gotten a slight boost from a U.S. government-run test in which its translation software beat out technology from IBM and academia …

… Google scored the highest in Arabic-to-English and Chinese-to-English translation tests conducted by the National Institute of Science and Technology …

… Google’s machine translation wasn’t perfect, but it was well ahead of the competition. On a scale from zero to one, the company’s software scored 0.5137 on the Arabic tests and 0.3531 on the Chinese tests …
Excerpts from – Google dominates in machine translation tests

Among many observations in the widely bruited UN Arab Human Development Report of 2002, one in particular struck home: fewer books had been translated into Arabic in the millennium since the caliph al-Mutawakkil than were translated into Spanish in a year. The sting of this comparison invoked the caliphs as the intellectual culture heroes, who had supported scholars translating Greek, Syriac, and Indian works to fill the libraries of Baghdad and Samarra…

Just as translation builds libraries, libraries nurture translation. Machine translation, even in embryo, provides some hope that ever expanding digital collections can also greatly expand their audience. That hope derives, in part, from the ways that massive digital libraries can enrich and change research on machine translation…

Works in digital (and print) collections are translated at unequal rates. A small number of works—in religious and literary canons—are translated again and again. A moderate number are translated once or a few times, and the great mass are never translated at all. This Zipfian distribution (with its “long tail”) provides a mutual opportunity for MT and digital libraries: at the peak, MT can benefit from massively parallel translations; in the middle, MT can help DLs find and align existing translations; in the tails, MT can provide readers with finding and browsing aids for multilingual texts…
Excerpts from – Debabelizing Libraries
Machine Translation by and for Digital Collections

46 thoughts on “FREE Online Language Translation Services”


  1. I’m having a hard time finding a website where you can just type in a sentence and it shows you how to say it in Japanese….for free anyway.Hmph,nothing is free online these days.I found one but it oly shows words,not sentences and it isn’t very useful.Do you know any website that meets my needs?
    Much love,~nya~

    EDITOR: Im not sure whether you want Japanese to English translation or a pronounciation guide …

    I suggest trying these pages: Jeffrey’s Japanese < -> English Dictionary Server, Worldlingo translate – Japanese < -> English or Google translate – Japanese < -> English

  2. I am looking for a website where I can type in a word – not knowing it’s origin and get an English translation. eg. Metta – I’m not sure if it is Indonesian, Thai, Korean, etc.
    Thank you

  3. i use wordlingo.com where i’ll just type the url and it’ll automatically translate, say spanish-english for example, that url page right on!

    for somehow, i should babelfish… maybe they can translate tagalog to english. does it? 😀

  4. Hi… Ummm… I took a hard time finding and browsing websites that has free translations and pronounciations as well… What’s the use of free translation if you don’t know how to pronounce it correctly… You’ll just be embarrassed…

    EDITOR: that’s a good point 🙂

  5. i am trying to find a website that can translate simple sentence from english to spanish. i know there is one on line. please send me the website so i can check and it will be a big help. thanks

    EDITOR: Please take the trouble to actually read an article before asking questions that make you seem foolish/lazy or both (like the one asked above)

    The article clearly states that all 3 translation services mentioned translate Spanish to English and vice versa

  6. please help me out for the following :
    i am english phustoo and urdu speaker i want to have a software which can help me to convert English to Tagalog (Philippine Language )
    i’ll be thankful to you .
    Best Regards

    Suleman khan

  7. I cannot find a free on-line French to English translator for website addresses that do not impose a word limit. I need to translate several website articles including Dictionary of French Architecture from the 11th to 16th Century
    and am being limited to 1000 words or so. Is there anyone out there who knows of such a free on-line service with almost unlimited word capability (10,000)?

    1. that article is already in the process of being translated translated by wikisource people at Dictionary of French Architecture from the 11th to 16th Century

    2. Machine translation of french language from 150 years ago may be pretty innaccurate because languages change over time

  8. hi could i please have some help for translating english sentences to german. thankyou

    EDITOR: Please read the article more carefully. All the free services linked to can translating english to german

  9. thanks for helping me..
    i was trying to find a way for me to change english into arabic for this project i’m working on right now

  10. Hi,
    I am trying to find a free website that converts English into Urdu. Do you know any?
    Thanks

  11. Am looking for 2 simple words, from Spanish translated into chinese
    (Vida Nueva = new life) can you help me please?
    Thank you

  12. Most of these… No all of these autommated transations are not worth their salt. The only way t oget readable translations IMHO is by hiring real people to translate. This option is of course more expensive and more time consuming, but if you want the end result to look decent then that is the only way.

    Guy

  13. Hello all!

    I would like to propose a Czech agency HQ-translate that translates into all East-European languages. Some translations they do for free (generally for non-profit organisations, I guess).

  14. I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you.

  15. I would like 2 know who to write Farler in arabic, it is my last name and it is for a tattoo so it is very important that it is correct ! please help

  16. Do you know of a website where I can insert a microsoft word document and translate from english to italian?

    Also I would like to locate a free translation service for English to Slovenian? Thanks…

  17. I need someone to help me translate a letter from english to german. The translation services are very expensive and this is a personal letter, not a professional document, so i dont want to spend alot of money. I am really needing this done soon.If anyone can help, that would be great.
    Thank you

  18. So which one has a better translation? We all know that the translated sentences is most of the time hard to comprehend. So based on your experience, specially for those who can understand various languages, has a better translation.

  19. hi i am having a problem in finding how to translate legal documents from italian to english.to get letters translated its costing me a bundle.i want to be able to write or scan the letters in the computer then translate in english.desperatly need HELP HELP
    THANK U

  20. Very nice and profitable web-site but i desparately need a free online Urdu to English Traslater so that i can make an urdu paragraph into English on just to click once. Can you help me?

  21. Out of the automated services you mention, I think google translate is the least worst 😉

    When translating from Japanese to English, google makes use of bilingual web-sites to extract the most appropriate translations and does this uncannily well for many proper nouns that are hard to find the proper translation of.

  22. Google Translate, like other automatic translation tools, has its limitations. While it can help the reader to understand the general content of a foreign language text, it does not always deliver accurate translations. Some languages produce better results than others.

  23. I have worked with a number of different translation services, both human translators and online editors. Heck, I even bought expensive software to do the translations. The majority of my visitors are from a Hispanic background, therefore top quality translations are essential if I ever expect them to enjoy my site. I hooked up with http://wwww.perfecttranslations, a local based translation service, to take care of translations for now. They so far have done the best job I could have asked for, and I’ll probably stick with them until an online translator can do just as good as a job (Google, I’m looking at you!).

    -Becca

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