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What if the Babel Fish actually existed?

On February 21st it was the "Day of Mother Tongue". Mother tongue - often called first language in linguistic terms - is the language learned in early childhood without formal instruction. Around 6,500 different languages are currently known worldwide - not including the different dialects within a language.

In our private and professional lives, we are globally connected and communicate with one another, both spoken and written. But do we do this only in our mother tongue? My answer and also your answer is surely: No! But in how many other languages can you communicate? I am personally – my first language is German - only fluent in one other language, namely English, my Spanish and French skills may be sufficient to ask for directions or order something to eat on holiday. But what happens if there is no "common" language for communication? We'd all be pretty up a creek for the moment!


Babel fish or universal translator

So to solve our communication problem, we need someone or something to translate for us. What if, as in Douglas Adams' famous novel "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", we could simply insert a little creature, the Babel Fish, into our ears and then understand all the languages spoken? Or what if there was a universal translator as described for example in the science fiction series Star Trek? No matter which language our counterpart speaks, a machine - or even a fish - makes it understandable for us.

It's a great idea, because it saves us the troublesome learning of a foreign language. Anyone who has ever learned a new language will surely remember the dull memorization of vocabulary or declensions! Or the pitfalls of the foreign language's grammar, which feels so completely different from your own! It often takes years to reach a level at which you can communicate reasonably well in a foreign language. And even experienced speakers of a foreign language may not recognize colloquial expressions, idioms or ambiguities and thus misunderstand them.

So back again to the concept of the Babel Fish. As I said: a fantastic idea, if you could understand all languages with this little animal. But the Babel Fish will probably remain utopia forever and our translation problem is still not solved...


Machine Translation

Let's look around for alternatives. There are now numerous machine-based translation systems on the internet or as apps that deliver a translation at the push of a button. Google or Bing have translators and Facebook can also translate posts into other languages. Surely you have tried this before and the results of these translators have often caused (involuntary) laughter if you have knowledge of the target language. Machine translations are usually limited to using correspondence patterns at the word level, leaving out syntax (syntactic ambiguities), semantics or pragmatics.

It will probably remain the case in the foreseeable future that machine-based translation tools cannot deliver the same quality as a human translator, yet they offer helpful support. A tool that delivers very good results in terms of semantics and syntax is the DeepL Translator. It has been on the market since mid-2017, and DeepL Pro has been available for over a year now, offering a programming interface (API) for developers, among other things. Here is a short excerpt from the official press release:

"Based on the DeepL API, developers can create exciting new products such as live video, chat or email programs that automatically translate for the user in high quality. The integration of the DeepL API into internal business processes enables international companies to easily overcome the challenges of language barriers."( - Press Release – DeepL Pro)

Sounds good, we thought. After all, TestBench Cloud Services has been developed for international use across teams and locations, and in our opinion this leads to one or two translation requirements. And after we had already used the tool in the company for other translation purposes and were very satisfied with the result, the decision was made quickly: instant translation via DeepL will be a new feature for TestBench Cloud Services.


On-the-fly translation within TestBench Cloud Services

Once the TestBench Tenant Administrator has enabled DeepL translation, each TestBench user can select his or her own preferred settings (source language, target language, etc.). A flag symbol indicates that a translation of a text entry is possible. And with just one click on the flag, the on-the-fly translation is already finished. With a further click, the translation can be hidden or shown as required.

Nine languages are currently available via the DeepL translator (English, German, French, Italian, Dutch, Polish, Spanish, Portuguese and Russian). As soon as a new language is available, we will also make it available for translation in TestBench Cloud Services.

Why don't you try out the translation within TestBench, we are looking forward to your feedback!


Kathrin Kupfer

Kathrin Kupfer works at imbus AG as a social media editor. She graduated in German and English linguistics and has been working in various areas of corporate communications and marketing for 15 years.