ARAB newspapers have a reputation for tamely taking the official line. On any given day, you might read that “a source close to the Iranian Foreign Ministry told Al-Hayat that ‘Tehran will continue to abide by the terms of the nuclear agreement as long as the other side does the same.’” But the exceptional thing about this unexceptional story is that, thanks to Google, English-speaking readers can now read this in the Arab papers themselves.
In the past few months free online translators have suddenly got much better. This may come as a surprise to those who have tried to make use of them in the past. But in November Google unveiled a new version of Translate. The old version, called “phrase-based” machine translation, worked on hunks of a sentence separately, with an output that was usually choppy and inaccurate.