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For international (even intergalactic!) communication “Just put this fish in your ear” has to be the best translation method ever invented!

Invented by Douglas Adams for “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, the Babel fish is “small, yellow, leech-like, and probably the oddest thing in the Universe”, acting as it does, as a translator from any language to any other language. It feeds on brainwave energy, and 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 centres of the brain which has supplied them”. The result is that anyone with a Babel fish in their ear can instantly understand anything said to them in any form of language.

Wow! The day we get this will really be the day that translation and interpreting become unneeded. Until then, though, the efforts to develop machine translation are a poor substitute for an organic being (a translator, not a Babel fish!).

Why is it that despite decades of heavy investment the best translations are still done by humans? It’s to do with the intricacy of language and meaning – there is no exact translation for every word in a language in every other language. If there were, a machine translation that works would have been developed by now.

When translating for overseas clients and suppliers, you have 2 options – write everything in very basic English and hope that the translation machines can cope, or use a human translation team that will understand what you are saying and how to convey that in your target language/s. Until the Babel fish arrives, translation by humans gives the best results – give us a ring to find out why!