Gus is a Scottish man who has been living in Finland for the past 5 years or so. When he arrived, he knew no Finnish at all. By now he has learned some but mostly communicates in English (which is possible in Finland).
During his first years in Finland, Gus used Google Translate to understand Finnish texts. That worked fine for digital texts that he could copy/paste into the tool. The problem came with print texts such as notices on the wall of his apartment building and official letters.
About a year ago, Gus got a new Android phone and went looking for tools that could help him with his translation needs. He put together a workflow involving Text Fairy, a text recognition app, and machine translation in the form of the Google Translate app.
Q: What kinds of things do you translate using Text Fairy + Google Translate?
Gus: I mostly use it for official notifications. They tend to put up notices on the wall in my apartment building, so I use it with those. Or I might get an official document in the mail, a letter from the bank, an insurance document, once I got a notification about voting. I use it mostly in those cases.
I might use it with a sign I don’t understand, things in stores, but that is rare. Most often I understand everything but 1 or 2 words, and then it’s easier to punch it into Google Translate directly. I’ve even taken pictures off my computer screen and used it. I had one of those PDFs that don’t let you copy text from them, so I just took a picture instead. It worked.
Q: How long have you been using text recognition + machine translation?
Gus: About a year. My old phone was a Nokia and didn’t have any good apps available for doing this kind of thing. I got a Samsung about a year ago and found these apps. I tried out a few that claimed to translate texts directly but their text recognition was fairly poor. I noticed that Text Fairy did a pretty good job of it, so I put that together with Google Translate.
Q: Do you ever have problems with it?
Gus: Texts that are too small are hard for the text recognition function to figure out.
Q: In the case of your use with official documents, what is your main goal?
Gus: Mere comprehension. To get specific, I will start with the first paragraph to see what the thing is about. If I decide that it looks important, then I go into more detail, translating further paragraphs.
Q: How often do you use this method to translate texts?
Gus: 2-3 times a month.
Q: Do you always understand the translations you get?
Gus: I can usually figure them out. Never had one where I couldn’t tell what it was talking about.
Q: If you don’t understand something in a translation, what do you do?
Gus: When I get stuck, it’s usually just 1-2 words that are unclear, so I type those into Google Translate.
Q: If you couldn’t use your method for machine translating texts, what would you do instead?
Gus: I would have to type things into Google Translate. If I didn’t have access to that either, I would use a dictionary and I would ask people to translate for me. I’m happy to have this solution because of the convenience. I don’t need to go bothering other people to translate for me.
Q: Do you make decisions based on the texts you translate with this method?
Gus: No. If I was dealing with a big or risky issue, I would make sure I fully understood the text by asking a colleague to translate.
Q: You said you normally translate from Finnish to English. Have you ever used this solution with other language pairs?
Gus: I was in Spain a few weeks ago and used it to translate from Spanish into English. A friend and I were almost sure we understood a document she had gotten, but we wanted to make sure. So we used it to verify we understood.