German language tools on the web

I am currently reading Richard Nordsiek’s Das Thomas-Evangelim: Einleitung Zur Frage des historishen Jesus Kommentierung aller 114 Logien and am finding that my German is more than a little rusty. 😦 I am therefore engaging in a bit of translation practise so that I don’t have to look the vocab up every time I want to refer back to the bits about my particular text sections and also to force myself to think carefully about what is being said. Not to mention the fact that I actually enjoy the challenge of translating from one language to another.

I offer the following comments about German to English translation tools on the web:

  • LEO on-line dictionary is excellent! It offers a comprehensive list of ways of translating German words into English, including idiomatic uses. If it can’t find the word you’ve typed in its database, it also offers you a list of options that might be related to it on the basis of the word patterns in it. LEO’s base language is German and it only provides meanings of German words in English, Italian, Spanish, French and Chinese. You cannot look up, for example, a French word in LEO and find the English meaning, although it does do English to German as well as German to English.

None of the sites that offer translations of blocks of German are particularly good (no surprises here) so if you have never learned German at anything above a tourist level, don’t expect that you will be able to read theological German using only an on-line translation tool.  However, if you are just stuck on a particular sentence where you understand all the words individually but can’t make sense of how they’ve been put together in this particular context, there are three sites that I have found helpful, especially when used in combination.  They are:

  • Google translate: this is generally the best. It seems to be better able to tell from the context when Funk is an author’s name, rather than a radio, for example, and it also seems to have a wider vocabulary and to be better able to come up with sensible meanings for the compound words so beloved of Germans. It is by no means perfect, however.
  • Arthropolis transtlation: provides amusement from its translation of people’s names and is not so good with compound words, but sometimes selects a better option for translating particular idioms.
  • Freetranslation.com: Provides a third perspective which is also sometimes helpful.  Has the same drawbacks as Arthropolis and provides the most wooden English, but …

(All of these also provide translation between a range of other languages.)

And when you get desperate for a particular word that you can’t find in a dictionary, there’s always ordinary Google which will often identify the names of famous (but not to you) people and provide definitions of technical terms that haven’t been included in your education.

My two new terms for the week are Weckformel and corpus permixtum. If I understand it correctly, Weckformel means “alertness formula” and was coined by Dibelius to refer to the “let anyone who has ears, hear” formula that is found in Revelation 2:7 and its Synoptic parallels (or maybe only the Synoptic parallels).  Corpus permixtum means “mixed body” and refers to Augustine’s argument against the Donatist heresy – that  that the church could not be a pure body because was a mixed body of saints and sinners. I suspect that my lack of familiarity with the latter is due to my having discovered that early church history was not compulsory for ordination and that I therefore did not need to sit through two semesters of classes from arguably the worst lecturer in the theological faculty at the time.  I don’t see myself needing to use either term any time soon, but at least I will understand them if I find them again. 🙂

And even when translating for my own personal use, I find myself trying to decide where I should walk on the line between an absolutely literal translation and one that reads more smoothly in English.

Update

I am informed by my German friend that the bits of Nordsiek’s writing that I am finding hard going are actually written in very difficult German. Perhaps my German is not as rusty as I had thought.  🙂

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2 thoughts on “German language tools on the web

  1. If you have the iphone use the dict.cc application. all my Deutsch freinds use it. It’s pretty good, and has phrase translations too.

    Best thing is, it stores the full database on your phone, no need to be connected to the internet to use it!

  2. Thanks, Phil. Unfortunately, I don’t have an iphone. I think I would lose all my free tech help if I were to buy anything made by Apple, but finances don’t stretch to it anyway. Which is kind of sad, seeing having an electronic database that doesn’t rely on being connected to the net would be very useful.

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