Geetha Padmanabhan discovers there are quite a few websites that make translation and transliteration child’s play

We discovered Azhagi by accident. The secretary of our residents' welfare association needed to translate complaints he routinely fired at officialdom. When the volunteer-translator took a break, he wondered if there was a failsafe solution. I suggested Google Translate. “Isn't there a Tamil one?” he hoped. “It might have better vocabulary and we'll be supporting a local venture.” And, ahem, googling helped us find Azhagi and what a beauty!

“Azhagi and Azhagi+ (AzhagiPlus) at www.azhagi.com help you type/transliterate directly in 13 Indian languages,” explained its author Viswanathan. “Software, support and allied tools are free. Please read http://azhagi.com/contribute.html” to know what you could do if you had an itch to contribute. “But please spread the word after using it.”

The software is sleek at 395kb, is portable (start using it right away in desktop, pen-drive) and any hotkey (with any combo — alt,shift,win,ctrl modifiers) can be set for typing in any language. Change key mappings to customise. It's a see-as-you-type one-step process to type/transliterate Indian languages in any application (type in MS-Word in Windows XP without enabling Unicode fully). There’s support for typing in TamilNet99 mode as well.

“The Unicode editor is in-built,” said Viswanathan. “Transliterate in Indian languages from within Azhagi application, and use a single global hotkey to type/transliterate in Indian languages in any external application.” A Unicode fonts-lister classifies all fonts in one's system. The package allows auto/reverse/dual-screen/SAT transliterations, gives you a non-Unicode editor option to type/transliterate in Tamil, and 'Tamil Typewriter' mode. “Foreign languages are definitely in my future plans,” he said, “so are more “non-phonetic” keyboard layouts and entry in all operating systems.” It's fast and furious, needs no special keyboard, and using additional features, you can type English text in MS-Word, Excel, Outlook Express and Hotmail. You can e-mail the Tamil text, chat directly in Tamil in MSN or Yahoo! messenger. Useful.

A number of portals

Actually, we found a surprising number of translating/transliterating websites. First off, we weren't surprised to notice Google Translate leading the translation websites list. It's fast, embraces Blackberry and can probably give you words in more languages than others. A Norwegian left this comment: “The translation looks to be more correct in Norwegian, than what competitors offer.” Can't say the same thing for Tamil-English. No matter what the combination of letters was, it could not get the corresponding phrase for “Poyirukkalame” (could have gone).

We found Babel Fish has a simple, friendly-looking layout, good choice of languages. It got pushed off the pedestal when we reached Applied Language which lets you download the app into your own website. But ConveyThis travels in 12 languages, needs only a simple javascript plug-in. You sign up, visit the Create-a-Form page. Its Translation Cloud helps freelancers do projects through Facebook. There is a dangled carrot: you send mail after embedding, your website might get a shout. But why is the updating a year old?

Lingo 24, that uses Google and Altavista, is ISO900-certified, has a panel of specialist translators 24x7 and in-depth industry terminology, answers language-related questions, puts out blogs and anecdotes about translation bloopers. It's not free. We browsed SDL FreeTranslation.com, Click2Translate.com for human translations, 9Reverso for short texts, HandyTranslator's graphical user interface that can be located anywhere on the screen side-by-side while the text is translated/edited. Babylon invites you to download its famous translation software (with synonyms/antonyms, retrieval) free of charge. It's one-click, two-way and has a mobile translation app. Fighting for eyeballs are BabelXL which has virtual keyboards, and a twitter app twuit.com, Frengly, Nice Translator (translates as you type), PROMT Translator, SYSTRANet, Tradukka, WorldLingo (not-free, translates e-mail), Yahoo! Babel Fish, meglobe.com (translates instant messages in buddy lingo).

Friends abroad suggested www.wordreference.com for phrases/words, Moztrans and Apertium. For important documents rely on paid ones, said one, and named themarketinganalysts.com. “Transclick.com is more accurate (126+ dictionaries and micro-glossaries at http://www.transclick.net/trajax), specialises in mobile email, SMS and Instant Messaging Translation, is sold on BlackBerry/Nokia Ovi App Stores, ATT Wireless and Handango,” he added. A new one is “You Translate”, a community-based platform.

Our secretary has fallen for Azhagi but most people vote for Google Translate. Since accuracy can be iffy in any language, you should look for fluency, and alignment with common speech. You may have to edit factual, specialised information. For evaluation of machine translation, see http://www.international-

english.co.uk/mt-evaluation.html.

“Translation” takes on a new meaning with this augmented reality app developed in Japan. The software created by Tokyo Shimbun and ad firm Dentsu asks kids to simply hold a smartphone over a newspaper to see a child-friendly version of the text. The demo video shows a kid peering into a smartphone as cartoon characters appear on the screen, explaining stories and drawing attention to important words. Do you think your kid will be interested?

MORE ABOUT AZHAGI

* Azhagi - features list at feats.html - operating instructions at oper.html

* Azhagi+ features list at plus.html - operating instructions at oper-plus.html