Chinglish's bilingual e-mail falls short

You are better off taking Chinese lessons

Dutch Internet company Chinglish promises to break down the communication barrier between Chinese and English speakers with its free, bilingual e-mail service. But the service falls short, plagued by translation errors that are common to all machine translators.

I tested the Chinglish service on Tuesday with the help of a friend in Beijing. We both registered for Chinglish accounts and began sending e-mails to one another, checking how the service translated each message and response.

The translation function is easy to use. Instead of having to cut and paste the text of each e-mail into a machine translator on another Web site, Chinglish allows you to translate from English to Chinese, or vice versa, with a single click. Translations are generated quickly and displayed in a column adjacent to the original message, allowing a side-by-side comparison of the two versions.

How did Chinglish do with translations? The result from my first e-mail, written in English, was not promising.

"Your Chinese name looks like the former Iraqi leader," my friend responded via instant messenger.

Indeed, Chinglish translated "Sumner" using three characters, "sa mu na," to approximate the sound of my English name. The system didn't care that my assigned Chinese name shared two of the three characters used in deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's Chinese name, "sa da mu."

On the other hand, Chinglish did not attempt to translate the nickname of my friend's son from pinyin -- a widely used romanization system -- into Chinese characters. Instead, Chinglish left the name as pinyin, which means nothing to most Chinese people.

Chinglish did better with my actual Chinese name, Lin Zhitong, using the correct romanization for the characters instead of attempting a literal translation into English. The same could not be said for my friend's son. His Chinese nickname was translated into English as "beans and beans."

As my friend and I sent more e-mails back and forth, it became clear that Chinglish's machine translator needs significant work to smooth out its rough edges. For example, in one e-mail the Chinese word for "weather" was translated into English as "climate," missing completely the context in which the word was used.

In another e-mail, the translator could not recognize that the English word "fall" also means "autumn."

Despite the many translation errors committed by Chinglish, the system was able to get the general meaning of each message across in translation. This could make the service useful in a pinch, but it's not something you want to rely upon for important or lengthy messages.

If you need to communicate with someone in China, you are better off taking Chinese lessons.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Sumner Lemon

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?