Ruby Community Seeks Autotranslator

As many of you know, Ruby was created in Japan by Yukihiro Matsumoto, and most of the core development team is still Japanese to this day. This has posed a serious problem for the Ruby community, since the language barrier between the Japanese core team and community and the English-speaking community is extremely high. Only a few members of the core team can speak English comfortably, so discussions about the future of Ruby, bug fixes, and new features happens almost entirely on the Japanese ruby-dev mailing list. That leaves those of us English speakers on the ruby-core mailing list out in the cold.

We need a two-way autotranslator.

Yes, we all know that automated translation technology is not perfect, and that for East Asian languages it's often barely readable. But even having partial, confusing translations of the Japanese emails would be better than having nothing at all, since we'd know that certain topics are being discussed. And English to JP translators do a bit better than the reverse direction, so core team members interested in ruby-core emails would get the same benefit.

I imagine this is also part of the reason Rails has not taken off as quickly in Japan as it has in the English-speaking world: the Rails core team is peopled primarily by English speakers, and the main Rails lists are all in English. Presumably, an autotranslating gateway would be useful for many such communities.

But here's the problem: I know of no such service.

There are multiple translation services, for free and for pay, that can handle Japanese to some level. Google Translate and Babelfish are the two I use regularly. But these only support translating a block of text or a URL entered into a web form. There also does not appear to be a Google API for Translate, so screen-scraping would be the only option at present.

The odd thing about this is that autotranslators are good enough now that there could easily be a generic translation service for dozens of languages. Enter in source and target languages, source and target mailing lists, and it would busily chew through mail. For closely-related European languages, autotranslators do an extremely good job. And just last night I translated a Chinese blog post using Google Translate that ended up reading as almost perfect English. The time is ripe for such a service, and making it freely available could knock down some huge barriers between international communities.

So, who's going to set it up first and grab the brass ring (or is there a service I've overlooked)?
Written on November 5, 2007