10 major languages Google Translate needs and where you can find them now
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Biju Patnaik Airport, Bhubaneswar, with Oriya visible on the sign (CC BY-SA 3.0 Subhashish Panigrahi via Wikimedia Commons)

From India to Ethiopia, Google is challenged by a few apps, independent websites and even Microsoft in the free machine translation game.

In the rush to get the world online, a number of languages feel left behind. Despite talk of English becoming the ironically dubbed lingua franca of the world, not everyone has strong English skills. A number of tongues have plenty of media online, and people want to understand what’s going on in those languages. Still, as Google Translate has so far accommodated 103 languages in its system, many both modern and ancient are missing. Here are ten of the biggest, though this list in no way should be seen as exhaustive.

1. Cantonese

This is the big one. We included it in the top spot the last time we made this list of 10 missing Google Translate languages, and it deserves to remain there. With about 60 million speakers between China and Hong Kong, the language is extremely important. While Westerners can live for decades in Hong Kong without learning the language, there has been a real push to standardize the writing and formalize its teaching, especially with pressure to teach more Mandarin coming from Beijing.

Hong Kong at night (CC BY 3.0 David Iliff via Wikimedia Commons)

Hong Kong at night (CC BY 3.0 David Iliff via Wikimedia Commons)

Just who has managed to beat Google to the punch on this? Microsoft Translator. Microsoft debuted the language in July 2016. Its sleeker interface also makes the mobile experience better with the Microsoft Translator app relative to Google’s offering, which can at times be bulky.

2. Sorani Kurdish

Kurdish languages map (CC BY-SA 3.0 ArnoldPlaton via Wikimedia Commons)

Kurdish languages map (CC BY-SA 3.0 ArnoldPlaton via Wikimedia Commons)

Google partially answered demand in February when it added the Kurmanji dialect of Kurdish. But Sorani to some extent is its own language and still hasn’t gotten the same treatment. A Finnish website Suomi Sanakirja boasts a translation feature for phrases 300 characters or less. TheWebValue (TWV) also has an English-Sorani-English translation app available for Android.

3-4. Out of Ethiopia: Tigrinya and Tigre

Family in Tigray, northern Ethiopia (CC BY-SA 2.0 Rod Waddington via Wikimedia Commons)

Family in Tigray, northern Ethiopia (CC BY-SA 2.0 Rod Waddington via Wikimedia Commons)

While Google answered the call to bring 25-million-strong Amharic to its service in February, Ethiopia’s other major languages languish. One of them is Tigrinya with some 7 million native speakers, while Tigre brings in another million. The two names are similar because they both come from the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia, though the two tongues are distinct.

Besides TWV‘s app for Tigrinya, there are dictionaries online, such as Geez Experience, while a site called All Language Translator features an auto-translator within the text box where you type or paste your English queries. Babylon 10 apparently features a Tigre-English translation service among its offerings.

5. Balochi

Modern Iranian languages map (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Modern Iranian languages map (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Spoken in southern Pakistan and Iran, the language has over 7 million speakers. Google answered some Pakistani demand in February with the addition of Pashto, but left the more rural language out in the cold. LingoJam features a Balochi-English-Balochi translator, but it’s up to native speakers to judge how good it is.

6. Valencian

Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències in Valencia at night (CC BY-SA 2.0 Emilio García via Wikimedia Commons)

Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències in Valencia at night (CC BY-SA 2.0 Emilio García via Wikimedia Commons)

When people think Spain, they often think of Castilian as the dominant tounge, but that negates the widely spoken and assuredly distinct Catalan (a.k.a. Catalonian). Other languages join those two on the peninsula, including Valencian. It is a matter of debate among many Catalonians, who consider it a dialect of their own language, but the majority of the 2.4 million Valencian speakers prefer to see it as independent.

Spanish-speaking website Las Provincias features what it calls a Castilian-Valencian translator on its site. While my Castilian is on par, I’m not in a position to tell you if what it produces is distinctly Valencian versus Catalan. Sorry, any desire for machine translation to English is still lacking. You’ll probably need a pro on this one for the time being.

7. Turkmen

The main language of Turkmenistan, it is a distant relative to Turkish. The country is trying to build up and modernize its economy, which could result in this language finally appearing on either Google Translate or Microsoft Translator soon. One app by TheWebValue (TWV) boasts Turkmen-English translation capabilities and is available on Android.

8-9-10. Out of India: Oriya (Odia), Bhojpuri and Assamese

The religious Odissi dance out of the eastern Indian state of Odisha has become emblematic of Indian tradition around the world (CC-BY-SA 3.0 Augustus Binu via Wikimedia Commons)

The religious Odissi dance out of the eastern Indian state of Odisha has become emblematic of Indian tradition around the world (CC-BY-SA 3.0 Augustus Binu via Wikimedia Commons)

While different projects talk about balloons, drones and satellites providing such areas with connectivity, Odia speakers having historically been off primarily off the grid has skewed perception of demand for the language to have a translation feature on Google Translate.

One of India’s most prolific languages with over 30 million speakers, Odia has the misfortune of being spoken in one of the poorer areas of the country that is only recently getting global attention for its need to be linked to the web with modern infrastructure.

There are dictionaries like Tamil Cube for Oriya-English-Oriya, while WorldLingo offers professional translations in Bhojpuri, but machine translation seems in short supply for now.

Mukuli bihu dance performance at Guwahati Assam (CC-BY-SA 3.0 Subhrajit via Wikimedia Commons)

Mukuli bihu dance performance at Guwahati Assam (CC-BY-SA 3.0 Subhrajit via Wikimedia Commons)

That language has two major Indian companions missing from Google’s repertoire (among several others we didn’t include in this list). The first, Assamese, is spoken in Eastern India with some 15 million speakers and is closely related to Oriya. With 40 million estimated speakers in Northern India close to Nepal, Bhojpuri is another large Indian-origin language likely missing from popular online machine translation offerings because few of its native speakers are actually online.

There are several apps that appear to be from the same developer who has removed them from Google Play, though it isn’t clear why. They are the Assamese-English Translator APK 1.7 and Bhojpuri-English/English-Bhojpui Translation APK 2.6. TWV boasts one for Oriya-English.

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