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Table of all translations of the fox's secret here.

On ne voit bien qu'avec le coeur. L'essentiel est invisible pour les yeux: How does online translation software stack up?

(I've forgotten when these comparisons were done. Translation software has moved on since then, although how far is a moot point. If you translate with Google Translate now you'll get rather different results.)

One feels a little guilty for picking on such a helpless victim, but we're going to see how online translation software handles the fox's secret.

Original French to English

  On ne voit bien qu'avec le coeur. L'essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.
Altavista One does not see well that with the heart. Essence is invisible for the eyes.
Google We never see the heart as well. The essential is invisible to the eyes.

The first sentence is a bit of a disaster. Altavista does OK, except for the intrusive 'that ', which is a direct reflex of que in French. Google Translate hasn't noticed the word avec at all. The heart becomes the object of the sentence.

Leaving aside the awkward translation of l'essentiel, the second sentence is actually understandable, mainly because it is so straightforward!

Here is how REAL translators rendered it:

Woods 1943 It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.
Cuffe 1995 You can only see things clearly with your heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye.
Testot-Ferry 1995 It is only with one's heart that one can see clearly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.
Wakeman 1997 We only really see with our hearts. What matters is invisible to the eyes.
Howard 2000 One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.

Translating into Chinese

In this section we look at how the original French is translated into Simplified Chinese (Altavista), and how the five English translations fare when they are put through the Google and Altavista mill.

French Original On ne voit bien qu'avec le coeur. L'essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.
Altavista 你没很好看见那与心脏。 精华为眼睛是无形的。
Woods 1943 Original It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.
Altavista 它仅是与一个能确实看的心脏; 什么是根本的是无形的对眼睛。
Google 它不仅与心,一看就看到正确;什么是重要的是看不见的眼睛。
Cuffe 1995 Original You can only see things clearly with your heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye.
Altavista 您能清楚地只看事物与您的心脏。 什么是根本的是无形的对眼睛。
Google 你只能看到事物显然与你的心。什么是重要的是看不见的眼睛。
Testot-Ferry 1995 Original It is only with one's heart that one can see clearly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.
Altavista 它仅是与一个能清楚地看的一.的心脏。 什么是根本的是无形的对眼睛。
Google 因为只有在一个人的心,人们可以清楚地看到。什么是重要的是看不见的眼睛。
Wakeman 1997 Original We only really see with our hearts. What matters is invisible to the eyes.
Altavista 我们真正地只看见与我们的心脏。 什么事关是无形的对眼睛。
Google 我们只有真正看清了我们的心坎上。要紧的是看不见的眼睛。
Howard 2000 Original One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.
Altavista 你仅看见清楚地与心脏。 根本的任何是无形的对眼睛。
Google 其中一个洞若观火,只有心。什么重要的是看不见的眼睛。

It's hard to emphasise just how bad most of these translations are. Giving a reasonable back-translation into English is not really possible because that would give the wrong impression. Many of the 'translations' not only fail to get the meaning right, they are actually quite ungrammatical in Chinese! The first sentence is particularly disastrous.

The second sentence:

For actual Chinese translations, see here.

Translating into Japanese

In this section we look at how the original French is translated into Japanese (Altavista), and how the five English translations fare at the hands of Altavista and Google.

French Original On ne voit bien qu'avec le coeur. L'essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.
Altavista 1つは中心とのそれをよく見ない。 本質は目のために見えない。
Woods 1943 Original It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.
Altavista それはが正しく見ることができる中心とだけある; 必要である何が目に見えない。
Google それは1つのことだけで、心臓が正しく参照してください。何が必要不可欠なのは、目に見えました。
Cuffe 1995 Original You can only see things clearly with your heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye.
Altavista あなたの中心とだけ事をはっきり見ることができる。 必要である何が目に見えない。
Google だけで物事を見ることができ、お客様の心を明確にします。何が必要不可欠なのは、目に見えました。
Testot-Ferry 1995 Original It is only with one's heart that one can see clearly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.
Altavista それはがはっきり見ることができる中心とだけある。 必要である何が目に見えない。
Google それだけでは、自分の心を参照してくださいを明確にすることはできます。何が必要不可欠なのは、目に見えました。
Wakeman 1997 Original We only really see with our hearts. What matters is invisible to the eyes.
Altavista 私達は私達の中心とだけ実際に見る。 重要である何が目に見えない
Google 私たちだけで、実際に私たちの心を参照してくださいました。肝心なのは目に見えています。
Howard 2000 Original One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.
Altavista 1つは中心とはっきりだけ見る。 必要な何でも目に見えない。
Google 1つだけで見て心臓を明確にします。本質的には何も見えないの目から見ています。

The Japanese is, if anything, worse than the Chinese, because in a number of versions the meaning is back to front!

The first sentence:

The second sentence is changed to the opposite meaning in most of the Google translations:

For actual Japanese translations, see here.

Now I'm aware that much better software is commercially available -- what do you expect with free online software? -- but the standard of these services can only be described as appalling! What is interesting is how badly this software translates seemingly simple things like ne ... que ('only'), le coeur ('the heart'), and avec le coeur ('with the heart'). Sadly, these online offerings prove themselves truly hopeless.

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