There are a lot of languages I don’t speak. All of them, in fact, except for English, and the remnants of four years of Spanish I took in high school, roughly 20 years ago. Suffice it to say that I’m not bilingual at all. So what am I supposed to do when I have friends who speak other languages. And those friends sometimes post in those other languages on places like Facebook or Twitter? What about when I’m browsing Flickr and notice a comment I can’t read because I don’t know the language it’s written in? In the past, I’ve always copied down the text, then pasted it into a website like Google Translate. That worked, but it was pretty unwieldy. There are extensions that do this as well. But if you only need translations on a handful of social media websites, there is a Google Chrome extension for you. It’s from Google, and is called Social Translate.
Social Translate is an automatic translation service that works on five different social media websites: Facebook, Twitter, Orkut, Flickr and Amplify. If you use any of those sites, all you need to do is install the Social Translate extension, and the next time you visit, any posts in a language it knows how to translate will be automatically translated for you. It’s pretty amazing, although there are still some things to work on.
First, Social Translate is entirely automatic. If it sees a post it can translate it does it, and displays the translated text in place of the text in the other language. So if you don’t look quickly enough, you’d never notice the post was ever any different than what you see. Because of this, and because you might want to see the original text, a small letter “T” is placed beside each block of translated text. Click the “T” and the original text will appear below the translation. Click the “T” again, and the original disappears. It’s fast and seamless.
At the moment, there is one glaring weakness, as far as I could tell. On Facebook (and maybe other sites, although I only use Twitter and Facebook, so only tested it on those sites), while the original comment is translated, any responses to the post are left in their original language. So while I have a friend who often posts in Italian, and the replies to those posts are usually in Italian as well, only the original post is translated into English, while all subsequent replies are left in the original Italian. This makes Social Translate quite a bit less useful to me, and I’d guess to others as well.
Still, Social Translate (as are all automatic translation tools), is pretty amazing. It’s fast, works automatically, and fits into whatever environment or website it supports. There’s no setup necessary, aside from choosing your primary language. You do have a “Translation Quality” option, which toggles between reliable or aggressive translations, but that’s it. Social Translate is a nice tool. I don’t know that it’s necessarily better than a utility that translates any text (as opposed to one that only works on a few sites), but it is definitely easy to use, and works well.