RT Cunningham


What Online Tool to Translate from One Language to Another?

translate globe Each online tool, it seems, has one weakness or another when you use it to translate from one language to another. Some tools treat separate languages as a dialect and shouldn’t. Some of them won’t even differentiate between the various forms of English (American, British, etc.).

I’m looking for an adequate replacement for Google Translate and it’s because it treats all the languages in the Philippines, except for Cebuano, as one language. I wish things were that easy, but they aren’t.

Google Translate and Filipino Languages

I can take any given word in English and Google Translate will give me more than a few words or phrases as the Filipino translation. Of course, that’s to expected when a word is either a verb or a noun, like “watch”. It’s “manood” as a verb in Tagalog and “relo” as a noun.

And then there’s word usage. Like English, Tagalog words have other words that mean almost the same thing, but are used differently. The word “manood” is usually used when watching TV or a sports even where “tingnan” is used to look at something.

I’ve looked at several popular translation tools and none of them are any better than Google when it comes to the Filipino languages. Some of them don’t support any Filipino languages at all. To Google’s credit, however, they actively seek help in improving translations.

Filipino isn’t a Real Language

I don’t know when the government of the Philippines declared the national language as “Filipino” or why. I’m sure it happened during the President Marcos era. Often written or spoken as “Pilipino”, which means “Filipino”, it isn’t a language. It’s a nationality.

When most people refer to the Filipino language, they’re usually talking about “Tagalog”, which is the main language in the National Capital Region, which includes metro Manila and my area here.

There are 19 recognized regional languages (not dialects) and they are:

– Aklanon
– Bicolano
– Cebuano
– Chavacano
– Hiligaynon
– Ibanag
– Ilocano
– Ivatan
– Kapampangan
– Kinaray-a
– Maguindanao
– Maranao
– Pangasinan
– Sambal
– Surigaonon
– Tagalog
– Taūsug
– Waray
– Yakan

Google Translate has all of them except “Cebuano” rolled into “Filipino”. Cebuano is one of the bisayan languages I know about and Waray is another. My wife, Josie, speaks American English, Waray and Tagalog. Her pre-teen life was in Tacloban City, which is in Visaya.

My daughter-in-law, Cathy, speaks American English, Cebuano and Tagalog. She grew up on Mindanao, though Cebuano is another language of Visaya (if I’m not mistaken, her mother grew up in Cebu).

American English is the Bridge

I’m not familiar with the history of American English being taught in the grade schools of the Philippines but I know there was a 10-year period where it wasn’t taught at all. The Philippine government made a big mistake by excluding it from the curriculum, which they discovered when there wasn’t enough hiring-age Filipinos available to work in fields which required spoken English.

If you think it’s rough for Californians to understand the English of the people from the deep South, you haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen two Filipinos who can’t talk to each other at all due to a language barrier.

English is used as a bridging language. If one party or the other doesn’t speak English, then it’s a worthless bridge. In that case, someone who speaks both of the languages has to translate and interpret.

When I can’t find the right translation through Google Translate, I do the next best thing. I do a regular Google search like “What is the Tagalog word for {whatever it is I’m searching}”. It usually works better for me than using Google Translate for obscure words and phrases.

Originally published in April of 2016. Updated for readability.

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By RT Cunningham
December 13, 2017