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HOW GOOD ARE TRANSLATION TOOLS FOR LEARNING DUTCH?

It is great that we have all those translation tools that help us to translate Dutch to English. You will get the greater picture of the text. Automated translations to other than English languages will not be that good, while translations from any language to Dutch can be completely absurd.

Does this mean that you shouldn’t use Google Translate, Deepl or your own favourite tool? Definitely not. Translation tools are very helpful, but you have to learn how to use them. Let’s have a look at a few things:

DUTCH IS NOT DEUTSCH

Very few Europeans will make this mistake. They will know that ‘Deutsch’ is ‘German’ and that ‘Nederlands’ is ‘Dutch’. People from other continents might be confused, because the words look so much alike. But do you know that the word ‘Dutch’ in the Netherlands doesn’t even exist? We live in Nederland, we are Nederlands and we speak Nederlands. ‘Dutch’ is an English word, not a Dutch word. So check if your language settings are right, when you use your translation tool.


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TRANSLATION IN CONTEXT

Let’s assume you want to translate: ‘Bring the car.’ You already know that ‘the car’ is ‘de auto’, so you just look up ‘bring’. Google Translate says: ‘brengen’, so you make the sentence ‘Brengen de auto.’ This sentence is wrong, simply because English grammar is different from Dutch grammar.
You could have avoided this mistake though by inserting the whole sentence ‘Bring the car’ on the website or in the app. Google Translate is already smart enough to look at the context and make it: ‘Breng de auto.’

Similar words can mean different things, depending on context. You need a ‘bank’ to proceed your payments, but it’s also nice to have a ‘bank’ at home for binging Netflix and as an emergency bed for guests who want to stay over. Maybe you even have a ‘bankstel’, consisting of a coach and two or more fitting lazy chairs. If you work at a bank, you might even be part of a ‘bankstel’ yourself, as having met your partner at work. (stel=couple). The latter ‘bankstel’ is of course an inside wordplay, not an official word you’ll find on woorden.org.

That’s why I like to use context.reverso. When you type in https://context.reverso.net/vertaling/nederlands-engels/bank you’ll see the different meaning explained in several sentences. I must give a warning here: not all sentences you read here are correct. Reverso scrapes the internet for sentences that the algorithm thinks are correct. Remember that.


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CHECK YOUR TRANSLATION

Listening should be your number 1 exercise in learning Dutch. If you develop this skill, you will be able to correct yourself. Did you make a translation? Read it out loud and listen to yourself. How does it sound?
Another way to check your Dutch sentence is to put it through Google Search. Use quotes around your sentence and see what comes up. If nothing comes up, you can be almost sure that your sentence is wrong.

SPEECH TO TEXT

Google and others are feeding an artificial intelligence algorithm with words and phrases for making automated subtitles. For English they manage reasonably, but for Dutch the results are completely absurd. I don’t see this changing very soon, because the problem is that the algorithm first needs to be fed by language professionals, before it works.

For English there is a pool of professionals in low wage countries, but for Dutch and other languages there is a shortage of such cheap labour. As I’ve been contacted by several translation companies for this job, I know that they offer a fee far below the Dutch minimum wage. This makes fast development of this program problematic.

Subtitles are really handy for learning Dutch, but just use the ones that are manually translated – luckily most Dutch movies and series on NPO and Netflix.

DON’T DEPEND TOO MUCH ON TRANSLATION TOOLS

Always remember that translations tools are just that: they do not replace the actual learning and practicing of Dutch. Use them when together with your listening and grammar skills and your intuition.

Roelien Reinders
Taaltraining Trancemissie

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