Translation simplification

There are several good online services that can help you overcome the language barrier.

Morfix translation tool 521 (photo credit: Screenshot)
Morfix translation tool 521
(photo credit: Screenshot)
Israel is a haven for the multilingual, with more semi-official languages than you have fingers. It’s not hard to find entire neighborhoods in which the residents speak only Russian, Hebrew, English, Amharic, Yiddish or Arabic. So what do you do when you’re walking down the street and someone yells something to you that you just can’t comprehend or when the menu at your favorite restaurant has a phrase that leaves you confused? If you are anything like me, when faced with an unfamiliar word or sentence, there is only one thing to do: look it up. Thankfully, there are a number of free online translation services that can make you seem like you know what you’re talking about – even if you don’t.
I was hoping to start this column with a translation service that does it all, and beautifully. However, I found that every service has its strengths and weaknesses, and it is good to know a few of them, just to cover any need you might have.
Morfix – translation with a teacher’s touch
Many Israelis struggle with English much the same way that olim struggle with Hebrew. Learning a foreign language can be difficult at best, so it is no surprise that at least one company has been focusing on translation as a teaching tool.
Morfix, provided by Nana10 (, doesn’t translate the text you type in. Rather, it gives you access to the definitions and explanations for each word so you can do the translation work yourself. If the puzzle aspect of understanding a sentence doesn’t appeal to you and you want to “cheat,” Morfix has a “translate with Google” button that will use Google’s service to translate the whole text.
Not only does Morfix translate between English and Hebrew, but it has recordings of almost every English word in its dictionary to help students with pronunciation.
Simply clicking on the little speaker icon will play a recording of the selected word. It also has usage examples taken from the official Merriam-Webster dictionary.
You can imagine how much better this system is for learning a language versus outright translation.
Google – translation in a hurry
If you’re the type of person who just wants a translation done, and fast, Google Translate has you covered. As with most awesome free things on the Internet, Google has one of the most comprehensive translation services, which is offered on its “Google Translate” website ( Google offers translation in 64 languages (compared to Morfix’s two) and can translate as big a block of text as you feel like typing or pasting into the translation box.
There are two features that set Google Translate apart from the other translation services. The first is its ability to detect the source language automatically so you don’t have to know what the original language your text is in. The second feature is the ability to improve the translation by clicking on a translated word and seeing what other options Google might recommend instead of the choice provided. This gives you the ability to improve the translation of your work, as well as improve the effectiveness of Google Translate as a whole.
Since Google Translate works on large blocks of text and makes no attempt to teach you the language, it is a good tool to just get that document translated quickly.
Google Translate also comes as an app for your smartphone with one additional feature: voice recognition. Yes, you can talk to your phone in English and have it spew out the Hebrew translation within a second. Sadly, its voice recognition is faulty at best. My attempts to say “You are not my father” (Ata lo aba sheli) were recognized as “My father is being abused” (Hitallelo aba sheli). As such, I can’t recommend using the voice recognition features for anything very important, but it should still do a decent job if you type in what you’re trying to say.
Babylon – best desktop translation
For those who don’t mind spending some money and want instant translation of anything on their screen at a moment’s notice, Babylon desktop is the way to go. Babylon’s program is expandable from a huge list of online free and premium dictionaries that will impress you with their variety and thoroughness.
They have everything from standard Hebrew/English translation dictionaries to technical terms pertaining to the textile industry. Suffice it to say, I think you’ll find what you need there. Once set up, all you have to do is hold down CTRL and right-click on a word in any window on your computer for the Babylon box to pop up and offer you a translation. I didn’t have any issues translating anything on my computer screen, and I was impressed by its speed and ease of use.
Pro tip
As for getting the most out of translation services, one of the best tricks to ascertain the reliability of the translation you got from a particular service is to translate the result back into a language you speak. If it still sounds like what you were originally trying to say, the translation was good. If obvious important details are no longer accurate, you might want to try another translation service or ask someone who knows the language before sending out your translated e-mail asking for a promotion. You might discover you were asking for a live chicken instead.