Dictionaries are not perfect.
Dictionaries are limited to words, common phrases and expressions.
Sometimes you need to translate an entire sentence. But all your Latvian friends are offline.
In that case, you can use an online machine translation tool. It’s not a person who will be doing the translation. Rather it’s a computer. So the translations are not going to be perfect. They may not even make sense sometimes. But most of the time they are good enough.
Here is an overview of the best Latvian online translation services.
This is a very popular tool that you may have heard of. It is what comes up when you search for “translate” on Google.
Let’s translate the first three sentences of this post.
This is not perfect. There are several grammar errors. But it is good enough. We can understand everything.
You can click on a word in the translation and see what alternatives are possible.
You can also translate websites! Just paste the address of a website in the text box.
But do not use the text to speech button. The intonation of that computer voice is just horrible.
One other handy feature is language detection. Not sure if it’s Latvian or Lithuanian? Avoid emberassement and check with Google Translate.
In addition to Latvian, Google Translate has support for many, many other languages. It means that you can even translate from Chinese to Latvian. But you should be careful when you translate to/from another language other than English. They will not tell you this, but here is how machine translation works. If you want to translate Chinese to Latvian, Google Translate will first translate the text to English and then from English to Latvian. Meaning can get lost because these three languages are very different.
This tool is built by a Latvian company. You can translate from/to English, Russian, Estonian, Lithuanian.
If you translate from Latvian to Russian, Estonian or Lithuanian, it will not go through English like Google Translate. So that’s good.
This is still not perfect. It’s hard for me to tell if it’s better than Google Translate.
You can also translate websites and entire documents and presentations! Upload your document and the text will be replaced with translations.
This is a desktop software application that you have to download and install on your computer. It’s not free but you can get a 30 day trial.
It’s a dictionary, thesaurus, translator, synonym dictionary, encyclopedia, voice recognition, spell checking all in one. It’s basically Tilde Translate + Letonika in a downloadable app. It works on Windows and Mac.
In this screenshot, the interface language is Latvian but you can change it to English.
Here are some things that you should be aware of when using computer translation.
Translating from/to other languages apart from English
As I already mentioned, sometimes machine translation services will cheat when letting you translate from languages other than English. If you want to translate from German to Latvian, they will first translate to English and from English to Latvian.
You can lose meaning of words this way.
But not all services work that way. Tilde Translate has translators for every language pair.
Informal and formal pronouns
In Latvian you can translate the English word you as tu (informal you) or Jūs (formal you) or jūs (plural you).
How would you translate the sentence You look good today! Well, it depends on the context, on who you are talking to. If it’s your spouse, you’d say tu. If it’s your boss you might use Jūs. But the translator does not have this context.
What’s going to happen?
I think by default most translators are trained to use the formal form. You’ll get in less trouble if you use the formal pronoun when you shouldn’t compared to using informal pronouns in formal situations. In reality, the choice can be fairly random.
Google Translate: Jums izskatīties labi šodien!
Tilde Translate: Tu šodien labi izskaties!