Learning Finnish through Star Wreck and Google's automatic translator

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


I wrote a post a few weeks back about using the movie Star Wreck (a Finnish-language Star Trek parody) to learn Finnish for those that have gotten to around mid-level and can't find much online to get past that and towards a real kind of fluency.

One problem there however is that sometimes with simply dialogue in one language and a translation in another, you're not always sure how the whole sentence works grammatically. This is especially true the longer a sentence gets. Luckily Google's automatic translation service is now available for Finnish, and it's surprisingly helpful. Take a look at the first line of the movie for example:

Keisari, pahoittelen häiriötä, mutta
suosittelisin teitä harkitsemaan vielä kerran.
The English translation for this is:
I would like to suggest, Emperor,
that you reconsider your plan.
Okay, so now we know what it means. But what would a more literal translation be? Google gives us this for the line in Finnish:
Emperor, I apologise for the inconvenience, but
recommend you to consider once again.
Not bad at all. Now here's another trick for when using the automatic translator. Take an entire sentence and put a period in between each word. Now the Finnish we'll be putting into it looks like this:
Keisari. Pahoittelen. Häiriötä. Mutta.
Suosittelisin. Teitä. Harkitsemaan. Vielä. Kerran.
And putting that into the translator gives us the following:
Emperor. I am sorry. Disturbances. But.
Would recommend. You. Harkitsemaan. Yet. Once.
Far better than looking up words in the dictionary one by one.

The translations are not always perfect of course (and they certainly don't work when you have characters speaking in a dialect or an obvious Russian accent so don't even try feeding those in) but Google has certainly made it that much easier to learn Finnish. Here's another interesting example where Pirk talks about how the only good thing about the 21st century were cheeseburgers:
Oikeestaan ainoa hyvä juttu tavallisen ihmisen
elämässä oli purilaiset. Tupla-cheddarilla.
English subtitles:
The only good thing in the life of
the man in the street was burgers.
With extra cheddar.
Google's translation:
Correct the only good thing for ordinary people
life was purilaiset. Dual-cheddar.
Obviously purilaiset means burgers. A bit of searching around shows that this is short for hampurilaiset. Let's break it down again word by word:
Oikeestaan. Ainoa. Hyvä. Juttu. Tavallisen. Ihmisen.
Elämässä. Oli. Purilaiset. Tupla-cheddarilla.
Which becomes:
Right. The only. Good. The case. The ordinary. People.
Life. Was. Purilaiset. Dual-cheddar.
This translator won't tell you though about the cases but on the end of the words, so it's certainly not for absolute beginners, but for those with a pretty fair familiarity with Finnish this is probably the best tool to come out this year to learn the language.

Here's the entire dialogue in Finnish, and here in English. Oh, there's also a Latin translation too.

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