Google Translate Does Thai

Just a cool little tidbit for those of you who correspond with Thai people or would simply like a rough translation of websites that are written in Thai.  Google has added Thai language support in Google Translate.

The only gripe I might have about it is that it translates English -> Thai Script or Thai Script -> English.  You cannot simply type in “Sawadee” and get back “Hello.”  Likewise if you type in “Hello” you get สวัสดี.  That’s great if you can read Thai Script but you can’t ever be too sure of the translation if you don’t read Thai Script.

One of the best ways to test of translator (in my opinion) is to give it text in a source language, translate that into your target language, and then use the same tool to translate the target language back into the source language.  This will give you a pretty good idea of whether or not things are keeping their meanings during the translation process.

So for a test I took one of the stories appearing on the homepage of Bangkok Diaries and gave it a shot.  For the sake of keeping this as simple as possible I only selected the first sentence from author DougBangkok’s post How to Learn Thai Like a 4 Year Old Kid.

The original text:

How does a child learn a language? They are born unable to speak, and for the first 12 months, just make noises. But after 12 months, words come. Single words initially, but by 24 months, most children are speaking in simple sentences and have a vocabulary of several hundred words.

And Google’s translation of the above:

อย่างไร เด็กเรียนภาษา? กำเนิดพวกเขาจะไม่สามารถพูดและแรก 12 เดือนเพียงทำให้ noises. 12 เดือนแต่หลังจากคำมา. เดี่ยวคำชั้นแรกแต่ 24 เดือนโดยส่วนใหญ่มีเด็กในพูดง่ายๆประโยคและมีคำศัพท์หลายร้อยคำ.

It seems to have choked on the word “noises” and doesn’t really do numbers though there probably isn’t any need to translate numbers so no points off for that.

So now the real test is to translate it back into English and see how closely it resembles the original text:

How children learn language? Origin, they can not say the first 12 months and just make noises. 12 months, but after word came. Single word at first, but by 24 months most children are speaking in simple sentences and a vocabulary of hundreds of words.
That’s actually not that bad.  I would guess that if you needed a quick translation of a website or wanted to get a specific point across to a Thai friend who wasn’t comprehending your point in English then it would be pretty effective.

14 thoughts on “Google Translate Does Thai

  • June 30, 2009 at 8:44 pm
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    Huh?
    Actually that is a terrible translation and although some of the words are correct the sentence structure is totally wrong and the sentences don’t make sense. I seriously doubt that a Thai person would understand that “translated” passage. The Google translator may have limited potential to be used as a dictionary, but it has a long way to go if you want your Thai friends to understand what you’re trying to communicate.

  • July 1, 2009 at 8:45 am
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    @Nick: Actually the idea isn’t to translate large amounts of text as a standard form of communication. Notice I said:

    That’s actually not that bad. I would guess that if you needed a quick translation of a website or wanted to get a specific point across to a Thai friend who wasn’t comprehending your point in English then it would be pretty effective.

    For the purpose stated I think it is a decent tool. Better than not being able to translate it at all.

    And I have used it when a Thai friend doesn’t know the word for something or they’re not getting the meaning of what I’m saying. So far, it has worked pretty well for that kind of task.

    I also use it because a friend of mine keeps a blog in Thai. I just have Google do the translation and I can comprehend about 80% of each post. Sometimes it translates things strangely but then I just have to ask and show her what she said and what it translates to and she usually laughs and tells me what she was trying to say.

    But nobody is suggesting that you take Shakespeare and copy and paste it and voila you’ve got a quality Thai translation.

  • February 23, 2011 at 5:30 pm
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    Actually that is a terrible translation and although some of the words are correct the sentence structure is totally wrong and the sentences don’t make sense.

    Nick,
    You obviously do not understand the use or purpose of this translator. It actually is VERY good and would get the basic meaning across to your Thai friends or enable you to understand the basic meaning of a Thai sentence. Also you must remember that Thai sentence structure is simpler than English. If you have any education at all, you should be able to fill in the blanks and reverse the sentence structure where needed. If you can’t do that you are a moron and should just stay home!

  • February 23, 2011 at 6:25 pm
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    @ David

    You’re a moron if you think you can go up to a Thai person who speaks no English and read this to them
    อย่างไร เด็กเรียนภาษา? กำเนิดพวกเขาจะไม่สามารถพูดและแรก 12 เดือนเพียงทำให้ noises. 12 เดือนแต่หลังจากคำมา. เดี่ยวคำชั้นแรกแต่ 24 เดือนโดยส่วนใหญ่มีเด็กในพูดง่ายๆประโยคและมีคำศัพท์หลายร้อยคำ. and expect them to know that you’re saying this
    “How does a child learn a language? They are born unable to speak, and for the first 12 months, just make noises. But after 12 months, words come. Single words initially, but by 24 months, most children are speaking in simple sentences and have a vocabulary of several hundred words.”

    Obviously I can fill in the blanks and reverse the sentence structure, but I don’t know a single Thai who would make sense of the Thai sentence above.

  • February 24, 2011 at 2:35 pm
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    Nick,

    How many Thai’s do you know? Have you ever lived, or even visited Thailand?

    I have spent several years in the country, have been married for many years to a Thai national and do, regularly communicate with my non-english speaking Thai relatives and friends, and I mean COMPLETLY non-English speaking.

    Just as YOU can obviously reverse sentence structure where needed and can fill in the blanks, guess what?… just kike you, Thai’s are not idiots either! They can also do the same as you and make general sense of the translation, enough to get the basic sense of what you want to convey. THAT is the point of what, and how, this translator is for and how it is to be used. As ADMIN stated previously: “…nobody is suggesting that you take Shakespeare and copy and paste it and voila you’ve got a quality Thai translation.”

    David

  • February 24, 2011 at 10:59 pm
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    @ David

    I probably know more Thai people than you do, I have probably lived here for longer than you have and I can definitely speak better Thai than you ever will.

    Here’s the deal…if you can read Thai, I challenge you to go up to any Thai person who cannot speak English, on any street in any town in Thailand and read that little translation to them and then chat with them, in Thai, to measure the extent of their understanding. I don’t think Thai people are idiots at all, but that translation is so bad that I can guarantee you they will have no idea what you’re talking about. It does not even begin to convey the general sense of the English passage. If you give it to them to read, they will no doubt figure it out, just as we can figure out the bad English translation.

    So my point still is, its not a good translation. Google translate for Thai is great for using as a dictionary and to get the spelling of Thai words, but it still has a long way to go as a stand-alone translation tool. If the translation is wrong, then its wrong. You cannot rate something as great if every single sentence is grammatically and structurally wrong. I don’t know how you can claim that I don’t understand the use and purpose of this translator. Surely the use and purpose of a translator is to accurately translate from one language to another?

    I really don’t understand why you’re arguing the point and getting bent out of shape about it. I’m not criticising Google translate. I was merely disagreeing with the original author who raved about it. I don’t think its rave-worthy.
    Nuff said.

  • February 26, 2011 at 12:05 am
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    i do agreed with Nick, as thai people i don’t think they do understand what google translated but perhaps they try to understand what do you read to them.. how do you know that they understand you ? even they don’t understand how can they tell you coz you said they not speak any English . 😉

  • February 28, 2011 at 10:11 am
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    @Nick. I use it quite frequently. In fact, since I use Google Chrome I get asked if I want the page translated automatically if I’m viewing a page that is in Thai or another language I’m not familiar with. And even though the grammar and such in the translation leaves something to be desired, it’s still useful. I can get the gist of a page where otherwise I would be completely clueless. I can read and write a certain amount of Thai but not enough to digest an entire blog post so I can translate and get the general feel of what’s being said.

    Like I said, I’ve used it to read my friend’s blog which is entirely in Thai and I can pretty much get what she’s talking about. It’s not exactly poetic but I understand that she went to the beach last weekend with her friends, had a great time, and bought a dress.

    Is it pretty? No. Is it perfectly translated? No. But I can put enough together to be able to get the meaning which is what I have repeatedly stated is what I think it’s useful for.

    And for Thais, if you’re getting an email from your boyfriend and you can’t quite make things out, I think this might help with some of the vocabulary and such.

    And you really seem to be off the mark with your comments about me raving about it. Look at what I said:

    Just a cool little tidbit . . .

    Tidbit implies that it is nothing major.

    I also said:

    That’s actually not that bad. I would guess that if you needed a quick translation of a website or wanted to get a specific point across to a Thai friend who wasn’t comprehending your point in English then it would be pretty effective.

    I never claimed this was a replacement for knowing the language or that you could get by in Thailand with just Google Translate. I was just pointing out that it’s a cool little thing that might be helpful for some people in a pinch.

    In fact, I often have to translate content and one of the things I do is run it through Google Translate then give it to someone (Thai, obviously) to correct the errors Google makes. I used to ask the same person to rewrite it from only the English copy and she would often complain that she didn’t get what was being said in English and would ask me to explain. Now, she gets the English and Google versions and between the two she is not only better able to understand but it has dramatically reduced the amount of time it takes her to translate a page since she’s only tightening up the Google version and rewording some things taking into account Thai rules about politeness.

    Of course you can’t just take what Google spits out and walk up to someone on the street and start babbling at them. But I bet if you took someone, sat down with them, explained that this was a translation which might be imperfect, showed them the English and Thai versions, and asked them if they could make sense of it, many people will get it.

    If you start off with the expectation that this is going to replace knowing the language or that it will spit out perfect Thai (or English) then, yes, I can see how it might be disappointing. However, I have never made that claim. All I said is that it might be a useful tool.

  • February 28, 2011 at 10:49 am
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    @ Admin
    So, in essence you’re agreeing with what I said in my last comment:

    “Google translate for Thai is great for using as a dictionary and to get the spelling of Thai words, but it still has a long way to go as a stand-alone translation tool.”

    It may work well if you’re translating from Thai to English to help get the gist of what your boyfriend is writing to you. But it does not translate well from English to spoken or written Thai. If you want your Thai boyfriend to understand that you think he’s hot, it may work. But anything more complex than that is pure gobbledygook. But don’t take my word for it. Go ahead and use it. Knock yourself out!

    I won’t use it, because I think its inaccurate and I’m warning anyone who cannot speak, read or write Thai that you are may not be communicating all that well if Google translate is all you’re going to rely on.

  • March 3, 2011 at 11:08 am
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    @Nick: I agree with the part about:

    “Google translate for Thai is great for using as a dictionary and to get the spelling of Thai words, but it still has a long way to go as a stand-alone translation tool.”

    But the point is that you’ve been trying to turn this into my endorsement of this as a stand-alone, ready to go, translation tool. You even claimed I “raved” about it though I would challenge you to pick out even a single, in context, sentence that could be mistaken for raving.

    You keep arguing against things nobody has said.

  • December 10, 2011 at 3:11 am
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    ของเธอที่รักไคร?

  • December 21, 2011 at 9:00 am
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    I’ve tried using Google Translate for school English practice conversations and gotten some bizarre results the meaning of wh ich was entirely different. It does provide an understandable if not perfect translation most of the time. One way tio see if the meaning has changed is to take the Thai translation and convert it back to English and see if it’s anything like what you started with.

  • October 12, 2014 at 8:15 pm
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    I have to do some Thai to English translations from time to time. Google is not good enough for professional translations. I recommend these guys in Chiang Mai. Pretty cheap and fast turn aroud time. http://www.chiangmaitranslation.com

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