Google brings automatic e-mail translation to Gmail

Google Translate takes the next step: You'll soon be able to write e-mail in your language and have it arrive to a friend or co-worker's e-mail box in their language.

Automatic translation is going to Gmail.

Automatic translation is going to Gmail.

Do you have friends and co-workers around the world who have trouble reading English? Or, on the other hand, do you speak Spanish, French, or German, but have to deal with sending e-mail constantly to those darn Americans who never, ever speak a second language? Well for both of you Google's forthcoming Automatic Message Translation for Gmail may be just what you need.

Automatic Message Translation as a Gmail feature has been in the works since 2009. At the time, Google engineers weren't quite sure how people would use it.

According to Jeff Chin, the Google Translate Product Manager, “We heard immediately from Google Apps for Business users that this was a killer feature for working with local teams across the world. Some people just wanted to easily read newsletters from abroad. Another person wrote in telling us how he set up his mom’s Gmail to translate everything into her native language, thus saving countless explanatory phone calls (he thanked us profusely). I continue to use it to participate in discussions with the global Google offices I often visit.”

It turned out that message translation was very popular indeed, so Chin continued on, “We decided it was time to graduate from Gmail Labs and move into the real world. Over the next few days, everyone who uses Gmail will be getting the convenience of translation added to their email. The next time you receive a message in a language other than your own, just click on Translate message in the header at the top of the message, and it will be instantly translated into your language."

Is it a perfect translation? Nope. Anyone who uses the Google Translate service on foreign-language Web sites or documents—and I do—knows that while as machine translation programs go Google Translate is darn good, it's still not nearly as good as a fluent human translator. On the other hand, how many of you have a professional translator at your beck and call every time you want to send an e-mail?

Say, like many of my friends and family, you are bilingual and you don't need a translation for say Spanish. No problem. The Automatic Message Translation feature will let you turn off the translation function for the language you're fluent in. On the other hand, if you don't speak a word of French but you have colleagues in Paris, you can set Gmail to always translate your French messages.

It's not clear yet what languages Google will support with Automatic Message Translation. As of 2009, Google Translate supported 41 languages. These include such common languages as English, French, and German. But, it also includes important, but not that well known in the West languages as Arabic, Chinese, and Russian. And, such obscure, but vital to their native speakers, languages as Basque, Welsh, and Yiddish.

Personally, while I wouldn't rely on Automatic Message Translation for love letters or vital business messages, for day-in and day-out e-mails, I expect many people will find this service to be invaluable.

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