Language Tools

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While you shouldn't rely on Google's language tools to do 100% accurate translations of web pages, they can help you in your searches.

In the early days of the Web, it seemed like most web pages were in English. But as more and more countries have come online, materials have become available in a variety of languages - including languages that don't originate with a particular country (such as Esperanto and Klingon).

Google offers several language tools, including one for
translation and one for Google's interface. The interface option is much more extensive than the translation option, but the translation has a lot to offer.

Getting to the Language Tools

The language tools are available by clicking "Language Tools" on the front page or by going to https://www.google.com/language_tools?hl=en.

The first tool allows you to search for materials from a certain country and/or in a certain language. This is an excellent way to narrow your searches; searching for French pages from Japan gives you far fewer results than searching for French pages from France. You can narrow the search further by searching for a slang word in another language. For example, search for the English slang word "bonce" on French pages from Japan.

The second tool on this page allows you to translate either a block of text or an entire web page from one language to another. Most of the translations are to and from English.

Machine translation
is not nearly as good as human translation, so don't rely on this translation as either the basis of a search or as a completely accurate translation of the page you're looking at. Rely on it instead to give you the "gist" of whatever it translates.

You don't have to come to this page to use the translation tools. When you enter a search, you'll see that some search results that aren't in your language of choice (which you set via Google's preferences) have "[Translate this page]" next to their titles. Click on one of those and you'll be presented with a framed, translated version of the page. The Google frame, at the top, gives you the option of viewing the original version of the page, as well as returning to the results or viewing a copy suitable for printing.

The third tool lets you choose the interface language
for Google, from Afrikaans to Welsh. Some of these languages are imaginary (Bork-Bork-Bork and Elmer Fudd) but they do work.


Be warned that if you set your language preference to Klingon, for example, you'll need to know Klingon to figure out how to set it back. If you're really stuck, delete the Google cookie from your browser and reload the page; this should reset all preferences to the defaults.


How does Google manage to have so many interface languages when they have so few translation languages? Because of the Google in Your Language program, which gathers volunteers from around the world to translate Google's interface. (You can get more information on that program at https://www.google.com/intl/en/language.html.)

Finally, the Language Tools page contains a list of region-specific Google home pages - over 30 of them, from Deutschland to Latvija.

Making the Most of Google's Language Tools

While you shouldn't rely on Google's translation tools to give you more than the "gist" of the meaning (machine translation isn't that good) you can use translations to narrow your searches. The first way I described earlier: use unlikely combinations of languages and countries to narrow your results. The second way involves using the translator.

Select a word that matches your topic and use the translator to translate it into another language. (Google's translation tools work very well for single-word translations like this.) Now, search for that word in a country and language that don't match it. For example, you might search for the German word "Landstra▀e" (highway) on French pages in Canada. Of course, you'll have to be sure to use words that don't have English equivalents or you'll be overwhelmed with results.