Google gives us some insight on the inner workings of Google Translate

Google may have started out as a search engine, but the scope of its services has grown considerably in the 10-plus years since its origin. Of the many products in its grand stable, Google Translate has become a workhorse platform, lending its multi-lingual chops to Chrome, Google +, Android, iOS, Gmail, and even Google eBooks. Few of Google's other services can claim to serve the company's core mission "to organize the world's info and make it accessible" as well as the digital interpreter. Since many take Translate's prodigious powers for granted (guilty), we figured a quick history lesson was in order. So, join us after the break for a video interview with one of Translate's senior software engineers and let him hit you with some knowledge about its origins and operation.

Google Translate is a service that translates text, documents, web pages and the spoken word to and from any of the languages it currently supports. It works using statistical machine translation (SMT), where computers analyze millions of existing translated documents to learn vocabulary and look for patterns in a language. Translate then picks the most statistically probable translation when asked to translate a new bit of text. Now, Google Translate didn't always work this way. Initially, it used a rules-based system, where rules of grammar and syntax, along with vocabulary for each language, were manually coded into a computer. Google switched to SMT because it enables the service to improve itself as it combs the web adding to its database of text -- as opposed to linguists having to identify and code new rules as a language evolves. That's not to say Translate is fault-free. Any veteran user will tell you that its interpretations can be better at giving you the gist of the original document than they are at consummately reproducing the message. Getting a computer to learn the morphology and nuances of so many disparate languages ain't easy, after all. So, now that you know how it works and where it came from, here's a few more Translate tidbits you might not know:

  • Google Translate made the switch to statistical machine translation in 2006, initially supporting only English and Arabic, but now translates 64 languages.

  • With such broad linguistic support, Translates services have increased tenfold in the last three years, and now processes hundreds of millions of translations every day.

  • Got friends from foreign lands you like to GChat with? Add a chatbot to the conversation for every language involved, and you can each type in your native tongue while the bot translates the text in real-time.

  • Translate makes getting around abroad easier with its Android app's speech-to-speech translation in conversation mode... as long as you're in Western Europe, Asia, or the Middle East (it only supports 14 languages at present)

  • If you've got a translation you know isn't quite right, let Google know with the "Contribute a better translation" feature. Translate's engineers use that feedback to target specific problems in Translate's operation.