Quality of online French called into question

While recent comments made by a government official over French content have sparked another language debate in Canada, the underlying issue has more to do with finding someone who can translate the document rather than the software to complete the translation, according to one official.

Dyane Adam, the Commissioner of Official Languages lamented to Parliament earlier this week that the federal government lacks a strategy to increase the use of the French language over the Internet, and that francophones were less likely to flock to the Web because they were dissatisfied with the content available in their language.

One government representative, however, suggested that the problem has nothing to do with the amount of French content at all, but in the quality of the original translation from English into French before the translation software handles the final document.

“Very often the quality of the French you see on the Web site is terrible. But it’s up to every department to organize themselves and to have the material translated properly. Every department should look at their translation needs,” said Jocelyne Limoges, spokesperson for Public Works and Government Services Canada in Hull, Que.

Ultimately, it is the Treasury Board of Canada that is responsible for deciding on which software or policy will be adopted for government sites. “They are the rulers, they make the policies for all departments,” she added.

An official at one translation software vendor said companies like his are hard to find.

“The barrier to entry is pretty high. There are only a handful of companies in the world that do this,” said Brian Garr, the program manager for voice and translation offerings for IBM Corp. in Boca Raton, Fla.

Garr said large enterprises that are looking to translate e-mails or Web pages are generating demand for such software, which helps ensure visitors are able to access pages, already translated, in the language of their choice.

The translation process itself, however, complex and requires an organization to find a developer that is also a computational linguist or a developer that can understand what the linguist is explaining to them, Garr said.

Long-term, the goal is to facilitate multi-lingual chats between people speaking different languages. Garr said the technology is still relatively obscure, and there is a lack of knowledge within the industry that the technology even exists.

Public Works and Government Services can be reached at http://www.pwgsc.gc.ca.

IBM in Markham, Ont., can be reached at http://www.ibm.com/ca.

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