It's All Greek To Me: Gmail Gets Message Translation

Brian Kraemer
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Writing on the Official Gmail Labs Blog, Darren Lewis, software engineer for Google, points out that email is about effective communication.

"Since the heart and soul of Gmail is about helping people communicate, I'm proud to announce the integration of Google's automatic translation technology directly into Gmail," Lewis wrote.

The new feature translates e-mail text from one language to another and can be turned on by selecting the "message translation" option on the Gmail Labs setting page.

Automatic message translation in Gmail is powered by Google Research's message translation project. Like most things done by the search engine giant, message translation is built on math and statistics.

"We feed the computer with billions of words of text, both monolingual text in the target language, and aligned text consisting of examples of human translations between the languages," Franz Och, research scientist, wrote on the Official Google Research Blog. "We then apply statistical learning techniques to build a translation model."

The upshot is that if a group of people are having a conversation with one another via e-mail, and everyone is using Gmail, each individual can translate the messages into the language he or she is most comfortable reading.

Translations can be made into 41 languages, ensuring that most everyone across the globe is able to communicate with each clearly, at least in e-mails.

It's also important to note that the translations are not permanent. Once a message in Gmail is translated to, say, French, the message will remain in that language until the e-mail is closed. If a user opens the e-mail later in the day, the translation will need to take place a second time. Fortunately, translating the message takes no more than a few seconds.

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