Although the name recalls both the biblical tower of Babel where no-one could understand each other and the ‘translator microbes’ beloved of space operas, Babylon 8 is no piece of science fiction. The latest release revamps the interface completely and adds many new features, making it more useful for on-the-fly language translation than ever before.
If you’ve never seen the program before, here’s what you get: instant translation of words, phrases, web pages or documents (for example Word files and PDFs) into 31 languages including the ones you’d expect (Spanish, Hindi, Korean and Chinese) and some you wouldn’t (Serbian, Thai and Czech), plus results from Wikipedia in 20 different languages and an on-tap converter that handles currency, time and measurements.
In use, the Babylon globe sits unobtrusively at the top of the screen (you can also drag it anywhere else you like and it’ll dock to the nearest edge) ready to translate whenever you hover the mouse over it, or use the shortcut key (Ctrl + right mouse click) to highlight some text you want translated. Clever enough to recognise the source language, Babylon then displays a dialogue which translates the text into one of the other 30 languages, adding Wikipedia entries where relevant as well as dictionary and thesaurus definitions.
The re-designed interface breaks all of Windows’ rules – it’s a spinning globe with little icons radiating out of it for goodness sake – but we love it. Unobtrusive, lightweight enough, it sits there out of the way but ready whenever you need it. In general use it’s more consistent than free alternatives like Google Translate, and doesn’t interrupt your workflow as much. It’s easy to highlight some text or quickly load a file, translate it and then get on with what you were doing.
One minor piece of unpleasantness: it automatically resets your home page to Babylon Search without being asked and, although you can change it back easily enough via the browser settings, it’s an unnecessary intrusion. Oh, and the distinction between those extra dictionaries that are free and those you have to pay for is confusing.
Despite the considerable enhancements and new features, Babylon 8 cannot replace a human translator unless you’re only interested in the dryest, most colourless copy. When it comes to nuance, slang, out-of-the-ordinary imagery or anything that’s expressive or uses language imaginatively, the results are too unpredictable to rely on. Sometimes they’re uncannily accurate, other times wide of the mark.
Still, if your business or travels take you places where you need to translate the sense or gist of something – rather than producing a word-perfect translation – then it’s a useful product and a worthwhile new purchase for existing users.
Contact: 01962 835053