Systran Translator Professional 5

  • Editors' rating
    7.5 Very good


  • Flexible translation, including batch and via copy and paste
  • operates standalone or via plug-ins for a range of applications
  • works with PDF documents


  • Considerable ‘training’ effort is required for best results

Doing business can be difficult enough when everything happens in a single language. When you work with a multilingual clientele, things can become much more complex. Systran Translator Professional 5 from Nuance (formerly ScanSoft) exits to help plug the gap between your own linguistic competence and that of your clients.

The software comes in no less than four versions – we tested the top-of-the-range edition. Systran Translator Standard, (£49 inc. VAT), translates documents, email and Web-based information and is limited to English/French and English/German translations. Systran Translator Standard Plus (£79) supports more European languages offering translation both ways between English and German, French, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Swedish and Russian. Systran Translator Preferred (£129) also supports these language pairs, and adds plug-ins that allow it to work directly from Microsoft Word, Outlook, PowerPoint and Excel.

Our review edition, Systran Translator Professional 5 (£269), adds support for PDF documents to the features of the Preferred version. All four versions also have a plug-in for Internet Explorer, and with all but ‘Professional’ there are limitations on the page length of documents translated. A detailed feature comparison is available at the product Web site, here.

Installation is straightforward, although we found that the process ran incredibly slowly. As well as adding all the application plug-ins, the installation process provides you with three desktop icons for different components of the software. One of these opens up a toolbar that can be left permanently on-screen; one opens the Translation Project Manager (a sort of translation console that can be used instead of application plug-ins); and the third takes you to the Dictionary Manager, which lets you build and maintain custom dictionaries to supplement those provided with the software.

Systran Translator Professional 5 is rich in functionality. Stand-out features are its ability to work inside applications including Internet Explorer (although wider Web browser support would be nice) and its support for PDF documents; also useful is its batch processing mode, and the ability to make settings for translating (or not) addresses and capitalised words, displaying alternative meanings and highlighting words it can’t translate.

The toolbar can be configured to translate any text that's copied to the clipboard. This is potentially an extremely useful feature, and is very easy to use. You select your text and copy it in the usual way, whereupon a progress bar on the toolbar shows how translation is progressing. Once the job is completed, you simply paste the translated text wherever you wish.

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The side-by-side view offered in the Translation Project Manager is ideal for users who want to compare two language versions of a document for precision, or change the formatting from the original. A formatting toolbar provides access to basics such as font selection, justification, bold, italics and underline.

Translation Project Manager can be used with Web sites as well as local or LAN-based documents -- you just need to enter a URL into the address line to open a source page. Using our test widescreen notebook offering 17 diagonal inches of viewing area it was perfectly feasible to view a source Web page and the target translation side by side, although without a widescreen this would be difficult. An alternative layout with the source at the top and translation underneath, is also available, but here the screen offered a relatively few lines of depth for both source and translation.

The ability to create custom dictionaries will appeal particularly to those who work in specialist disciplines, although most users will probably need to tweak the translation engine to some extent in order to get the best results

One of our tests, for example, translated some text from a French-language, tourist-focussed Web site as follows: 'In a few years, Toulouse forged a dynamic image of city. Aeronautics, the space one, electronics, data processing, biotechnologies are the key words of this strong Ville label which makes it possible our city to be recognised in the economic plan'. Although you can get a sense of meaning from this translation, it's certainly not good enough for business communication.

The process of creating user dictionaries can become quite complex: decisions can be made on areas like word gender, plural forms, parts of speech and so on. In general, the more detail you are prepared to go into, the more accurate translations will become. You'll need to build in time to get to grips with dictionary creation -- and ironically, this process is not helped by a user manual that itself requires some study if you're to get the most from it.

The most obvious question concerning Systran Translator Professional 5 is: how well does it stack up against free Web-based translation services such as Google's? There are two aspects to the answer: the quality of translation, and the features on offer.

The range of services available, including batch conversion, working with PDFs and integration with standard desktop software, mean that Systran Translator Professional 5 offers a great deal more flexibility than any Web-based translation service.

As far as accuracy is concerned, we tried Google’s translation service with our French test page. It produced, word for word, the same translation. That’s no surprise, as Systran provides the translation engine for Google as well as for AOL, Altavista and Lycos to name but a few.

In the end, Systran Translator Professional 5 is something of a ‘chicken and egg’ product as far as business use is concerned. It can undoubtedly produce high-quality translations, but in order to get the best out of it you’ll need a good understanding of the target language(s) you want to use in order to customise the software optimally. But if you have such an understanding, then you probably don't need the software.

On the other hand, if all you require are ‘good enough’ translations, Systran Translator Professional 5 may do the job with relatively little tweaking. In this case, its benefits over online translation tools -- such as batch processing and on-the-fly cut-and-paste translation -- may justify the price.