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Four online translation tips for journalists

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Four online translation tips for journalists

Lindsay Kalter | August 09, 2012

Now that physical distance has been rendered meaningless by digital information, language is one of the last practical barriers in news consumption.

But even that obstacle is nearly obselete, with functions like Google Chrome's built-in translation bar, Google Translate, FreeTranslation.com, Bing Translator and countless other online tools.

In a Storyful post by Mike Sefanov, the news platform's senior editor offers ways for journalists to ensure that information is being distributed--and received--accurately.

Watch out for literal translations

Most online tools have the tendency to translate certain words and place names too literally, Sefanov says. For example, in an Arabic tweet containing "Hajar Aswad," a neighborhood in Syria's capital city of Damascus, the name is converted to English by Google Translate as "the city of the Black Stone." "Most have at least some difficulties properly translating slang, emotion, and nuance," Sefanov says of online translation resources.

Take a two-pronged approach

Because it's difficult to get a precise translation online, using more than one site can help to avoid confusion. In the case of "Hajar Aswad," placing the Arabic words for "black stone" followed by "Syria" into Google Maps confirms results for the neighborhood in question. In addition, translating a word using at least two separate tools can avoid the confusion caused by multiple definitions. For example, the Arabic word "الصحافة" is translated to English by FreeTranslation.com as "The Press," connoting the collective news media, while Google Translate suggests "printing press," which could refer to the ink-transferring device.

Beware of audio variation

Although translation sites often provide an audio pronunciation, this is generally not a reliable source, Sefanov says. "Google Translate doesn’t account for regional accents, so the practice usually serves only as a guide for supplemental information," he writes. "And of course the value of having true multilingual sources who can help verify the meaning of a text or the audio from a YouTube clip cannot be supplanted by that of an online translation tool."

Develop trusted sources using social media

Journalists reporting in a second language should reach out to multilingual sources on social media websites for accurate and efficient translation feedback, Sefanov says. While reporters should be wary of sources who may twist the content meaning for their own agendas, "engaging on multiple fronts and vetting crowdsourced translators can also add to an arsenal of social tools that can help get a journalist closer to the truth."

Via Storify.

Image courtesy of Morguefile.