At peace with the news

At peace with the news – dove and olive branch

My father had a reputation as a very smart guy who, at the same time, was notoriously bad at taking care of his own health. He never exercised, he worked himself ragged, drank a fair bit, and smoked right up to the day the doctors put him on oxygen. Nevertheless, he also did a lot of things right, and – like any father’s son I suppose – I owe a great deal of who I am, to who he was.

As a kid I was lucky enough to be smart enough to appreciate Dad’s virtues as virtues, while understanding his vices were just vices. Any kid who’s paying attention has an opportunity to learn twofold from their parents, once by mimicking their strengths, and once again by seeing what doesn’t work, what not to do.

And so I grew into a man with my father’s appreciation of beauty, his love for nature and science, his decency and honesty, his eye for a good design and his love for anything that simply works. And an ability to tie a fast bowline. Conversely, I never smoked, I kept work and play in balance, I ate healthy, and I got outside for a run every day. These are all things I owe to my dad.

What’s this got to do with news? (more…)

January… February…

January... February...

January and February were nice months for Transrio. The New Year’s resolution released lots of happy energy. First off, I started right in doing pronunciation every morning first thing. New habits are cantankerous at first, but I did stick with it, and now it IS a habit, and something I enjoy. I made lots of improvements, natural of course whenever you’re doing something daily. I got fascinated by TTS (text to speech) and upgraded my Spanish voices to Rosa from Acapela, and Penelope from Ivona. The quality, on both these voices, is incredible. It really makes my morning practice a lot more fun. Good TTS voices cost $35-$45 apiece, (more…)

New Year’s resolution

New Year’s resolution

I never try to make a New Year’s resolution; most years I don’t have one. But this time one popped into my head fully formed. It was a bright, cold, snowy day, late December. It popped in there like a true little vision. Laura had just settled herself to work sketching a pine sapling, she was sitting on a sitzpad in deep snow by the creek. I was following elk tracks. And it came to me in full glory, exactly like this:

“My resolution for 2013 is to get significantly more fluent in Spanish, and make steady progress in Transrio. To accomplish this, I want to specifically commit to: (more…)

Quick & fun language warm-up

Quick & fun language warm-up

Back in May I described a great method for language learning based on finding super-interesting articles, then reading them in combination with the text-to-speech and mini-translator functionality in Word (New Toy, May 2011). I now use this technique every morning, usually for 10 to 30 minutes. It’s by far and away the best thing I’ve ever found for an easy, everyday language warm-up. Since writing the original article, it has smoothed out for me into something I look forward to, and a good little habit.

Here are the actual steps I go through now – (more…)

Language tools — a quick revisit

Language tools — a quick revisit

Awhile back Natalia pushed me out of the nest, saying it was finally time for me to start writing to her in Spanish. For years we have been writing back and forth bilingually, my e-mails in English, hers in Spanish. Which was super pleasant. But it was laziness on my part, and in fact unbecoming of a person whose goal is to do business in Latin America.

Writing in Spanish was hard for me at first but it’s getting easier with practice. I read well, but speak poorly, and I had zero experience with writing. To my surprise though, just having everyday language tools readily at hand makes it much, much easier now than it would have been, say, 5 years ago. It isn’t cheating to use these things. In fact writing simple e-mails with the support of spell-checkers and grammar-checkers, conjugators and dictionaries, and of course machine translation, is just a great way to get continual correcting feedback while learning any language.

Over the years I’ve written several posts about language learning and language tools, so today I decided to make a new category called Language — it’s apparently a theme on this blog. If you click Language on the sidebar, you’ll see some of these prior posts. Always they have a special focus on free or nearly-free computer applications. I just finished sending an e-mail to Natalia and I thought it might be worth describing the tools I like best for anybody else who’s struggling with a second language. (more…)

A fresh new toy for language learning

A fresh new toy for language learning

Recently a good friend called me and asked my recommendation for the best way to learn Spanish. This post is not about language learning generally, it’s about one single, wonderful toy I recently discovered, which I’m using every day now in my own language practice. But first, as background, I would like to talk more generally about learning languages, from a bird’s eye view.

If you want to skip over the "Tricks" section right below, feel free. The new technique I found is at the end, under "Toy." (more…)

Translation Revisited — some real surprises

Translation Revisited - some real surprises

More than a year ago I posted a lengthy article on machine translation, reporting the state of things back then, and testing six leading MT products ("MT playoffs, March 2009"). The results had Google in first place, with Language Weaver next, and Microsoft third. I closed the article with this: "Bear in mind this was a single test of 500 words, and just English-Spanish. But things are changing so fast a person really should do their own tests anyway once a year…"

Testing is actually hard work, not as easy as you would think. You really should do it, though, if you routinely use these tools. Get a chunk of sample text, run it through the various MT options out there, and compare the output. Seems quick and easy. The hard part, though, is that the output (in my case) is Spanish, and while I read it OK, it’s slow going for me really judging quality. Added to that, first impressions of MT quality can really be deceiving. A butchered first sentence makes a whole paragraph look like crap, and it’s only after digging into it that you might notice what’s good about it.

Well, I did the work, as well as some other research having to do with translation in general, and I’m feeling really good now. All caught up on things. In a nutshell, here’s what I found:

I tested seven MT providers, including all the current leaders. Overall I was very impressed by the quality I was seeing; links to their translation pages are provided at the end of this article, if you want to see what I mean. The biggest surprise by far was that, over the past 16 months, Microsoft must have been grinding away pretty hard in the back room, because they’ve quietly closed the gap with Google. In my opinion they can claim the number one slot now, at least for Spanish. I totally wasn’t expecting that. In fact, I had to stare at it from several directions before I could actually believe it. (more…)

Language Weaver: not available to us common folk!

Language Weaver: not available to us common folk!

Last month I listed Language Weaver as a close-second-place to Google in translation quality. I had read that by purchasing Babylon’s software I could get access to the Language Weaver engine. So I tried it out (the software is cheap) and found out that oops, there’s a catch. Just to be sure I traded quick e-mails with both companies; but at least for now, here’s where it’s at. Babylon is limited (probably by contract) to a 300-letter translation block. That’s right, letters, not words. Basically unworkable except to gist a single sentence. Windows Live accepts 500 words, and Google appears to be unlimited.

So Language Weaver is only for big guys. The company is very nice people, though. (more…)

Machine Translation Playoffs

Machine Translation Playoffs  

(MT = Machine Translation, not Montana.)

I just finished testing six MT products against each other. Skip to the bottom to see my conclusions, or just read along and learn about a very interesting (and soon to be hot) subject.

I’ve followed the progress of machine translation for 15 years; basically I’m fascinated by it. During that time I’ve owned, actively used, and kept upgraded on several desktop MT programs, as well as experimenting with online versions. Many people like to laugh at MT, and some of the translations are pretty funny, or worse, mangled. Professional translators in particular enjoy deriding MT, for obvious reasons. But now, quietly, many of them are incorporating MT into their workflow.

Personally, even in the primitive versions years ago, I have found MT to be extremely useful in my work, like a super-dictionary. Paste in a block of text in the source language, it quickly spits out, at the very least, a big pile of useful words in the target language. For a person like myself with very weak Spanish, it gives a jump-start to anything I’m trying to write.

Well, Folks, fast-forward to 2009. If you’re reading it here first, I’m pleased: MT is at a tipping point where the output is suddenly not just a pile of useful words, but something a person can basically read and understand. And for reasons I’m about to explain, it’s going to get much better, very quickly. (more…)