In an OCR + MT experiment, Quest Visual Word Lens says that Grilled Sausages -> A LA PARILLA SALCHICHAS

One of the more interesting developments at the guided tours business over the past few years has been an increase in the proportion of weird walks sold as younger customers have started using decent, cheap handheld-hosted apps to cover the basic “¡Look! ¡Ze catedral!” legacy (OK, zombie) guide territory.

Real-time optical character recognition with machine translation – already available in various guises in military environments – is an obvious complement to electronic guides of this type, and yesterday a brief burst of interest greeted an iPhone app which purports to offer hyperreal functionality of this type.

The simple, contrastive graphics used for Quest Visual‘s YouTube Word Lens English ⇄ Spanish demo seem to indicate that it can manage only very basic OCR, but the results of its MT do look rather impressive:

Unfortunately, rudimentary investigation suggests that this particular horse may have been nobbled, and that the video does not give a fair picture of the capabilities of the tool. As Hans Klis observes, translation is word-for-word, so that, for example, where Google Translate correctly renders grilled sausages as salchichas a la parrilla, etc etc, Word Lens fails at the most basic of syntax hurdles and serves up a la parrilla salchichas and francés patatas fritas.

Someone – probably Google – will surely do this very well, very soon. But official guides can breathe a sigh of relief this Christmas, and caveat emptor continues to be the first rule of the iPhone Apps jungle.

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Posted on 2010

This post pre-dates my organ-grinding days, and may be imported from elsewhere.

Barcelona (483):

English language (424):

Föcked Translation (413): I posted to a light-hearted blog called Fucked Translation over on Blogger from 2007 to 2016, when I was often in Barcelona. Its original subtitle was "What happens when Spanish institutions and businesses give translation contracts to relatives or to some guy in a bar who once went to London and only charges 0.05€/word." I never actually did much Spanish-English translation (most of my work is from Dutch, French and German) but I was intrigued and amused by the hubristic Spanish belief, then common, that nepotism and quality went hand in hand, and by the nemeses that inevitably followed.

Quest Visual (1): Quest Visual, Inc.

Spain (464):

Spanish language (426):

Translation (462):


  1. I saw this app praised on some Spanish TV channel (actually a public one, I think), and I was not surprised that the makers of the program (actually, I think it was a news program) did not get how bad the translations were.

    Which just confirms how fucked up anything related to "foreings languages" is, and remains, in Spain.

    Good this has gained your attention, and, on a more general note, good that this blog exists. It hurts but, to paraphrase Bono in one of his solidarity concerts to some suffering people in a faraway country, I'd rather kick your asses than kiss them, because that's what will help you get better.

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