Review of seven Second Life language translators

Recently I met a beautiful woman in Second Life. Ok, she was someone’s avatar, but still beautiful. When I tried talking with her, however, I learned she was Romanian and knew little English. I had similar experiences with two other avatars the same morning. One was Swiss and the other Brazilian, but none of us knew enough of the other’s language to speak.

About 54% of Second Life members live in non-English speaking countries. Most speak widely used languages like German, French, and Spanish, but others speak languages such as Portuguese, Turkish, and Korean. Many also speak English, but often not well. How do we communicate with them when we meet them? We can and should learn foreign languages, but no one can learn them all. Is there another way?

Yes. Over a half dozen automatic language translating HUD’s are available in Second Life. Some of them are free. Each of them translates at least 32 languages. The odds are that one of them will work for you. They only translate typed text at present – automatic translation of speech will be a major technical challenge – but they should allow you to hold a basic conversation in a wide variety of languages.

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Second Life's Czechoslovakia sim

I’ve tested seven of the automatic translators that are most commonly available in Second Life They range in price from free to 500 Lindens.  One of the free translators rivals the most expensive for quality in basic functionality.

The translators I tested are:

  • Ferd’s Free Translator (free)
  • Simbolic   (free)
  • AF Translator Basic (aka Translator Box) (180 Lindens)
  • AF Translator Pro (340 Lindens)
  • MH Translator (370 Lindens)
  • Q-Translator (390 Lindens)
  • X-Lang (500 Lindens)

Before buying any translator, be sure to test its HUD on your screen in ALL positions.  I found this a particularly aggravating weakness of a few translators.  For example, I might specify that I wanted it in the upper right, but some translators would either position it elsewhere on the screen, or not at all. Also be certain that the HUD isn’t partially covered by the side or bottom of the screen, as happens in a few translators. Check all screen positions.

Some other key features to look for:

  • Toggling between automatic language detection and a specified language.
  • Toggling object translation on and off.
  • Spell checker
  • Anti-spam filter to block repeating statements when you speak in the target language.
  • Displaying your current language settings
  • If you are not a native English speaker, does it offer a HUD or help in your native language?

X-Lang 6.0 (500 Lindens):

This is one of only two translators to position its HUD without any problems. Its features include:

  • Translates 41 languages
  • Help in 9 languages
  • HUD interface in 15 languages
  • Toggles object translation on and off
  • Displays your current language selections
  • Auto language detection.

Q-Translator 2.1 (390 Lindens):

This is the Cadillac of translators.  The only HUD positioning problems were very minor and don’t affect usage.   Its features include:

  • Translates 41 languages
  • Help in 34 languages
  • HUD interface in eight languages
  • Spellchecker in 17 languages  (a really useful feature)
  • Toggles object translation on and off
  • Displays your current language selections
  • Auto-detects languages
  • Can search Wikipedia from the HUD

MH Translator 3.6 (370 Lindens)

I found MH Translator extremely frustrating.  The HUD position was wrong or simply didn’t work for most positions, and I sometimes had trouble getting it to translate, probably because in certain positions, some HUD menu choices are hidden from view.

  • Translates 42 languages
  • HUD and help are English only
  • Toggles object translation on and off
  • Does not display current language selections

AF Pro 1.4 (340 Lindens)
AF Basic 2.4 (180 Lindens)

These both offer a very nice compromise between the more complex HUD of X-Lang and Q-Translator and the streamlined HUD of Ferd’s Free and Simbolic Translators.  Of all the translators, this is the one that was easiest to use without experience and without reading help.

As much as I like these two translators, I do have two complaints.  One is that when the HUD is placed on the left and center bottom of the screen, Second Life’s chat bar partially covers it.  The other complaint is that neither version displays your current language selections.   This is not a problem if you always use the same languages, but if you or the people you are listening to use more than one language, it can be a nuisance.

  • Pro version has HUD in 6 languages
  • Translates 34 languages (Pro version translates 41 languages)
  • Help in 34 languages
  • Toggles object translation on and off
  • Auto-detection of languages
  • Anti-spam option on Pro version.
  • Does not display current language selections

Simbolic 2.0  (free)

This otherwise really nice free translator has one big problem: HUD positioning is terrible.  For most positions I tried, the HUD either ended up in the wrong position or vanished completely.  It’s compounded by the fact that when its position in the center or bottom of the screen, the drop down menu is cut off and several languages become impossible to select.

  • Translates 32 languages
  • Displays current language selection
  • Does not toggle object translation on and off

Ferd’s Free Translator 7.3  (free)

If you don’t need non-English help or HUD, or other features of more full-featured translators, this one is for you.  I was amazed by it.  It’s intuitive to use, it toggles object translation, and it works in no-script areas.  It’s the one I found most natural to use, and boasts some useful features not found on the others.

I found the automatic language detection reliable when its set to its default of detecting the language of the other speaker’s viewer.  Currently SL has viewers in Chinese, English, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, and Spanish, so these are the languages that Ferd will identify most reliably, as long as the speaker’s viewer is set to the language he/she is speaking.

  • Detects 95 languages
  • Allows 16-way chats in up to 34 languages
  • Takes up the least screen space when you’re wearing it

Conclusion:

Everyone in Second Life should have a translator. If you don’t feel like paying for one, get Ferd’s Free Translator or the Simbolic Translator.  They’ll both do a fine job.

A translator can make exploring foreign language sims easier
A translator can make exploring foreign language sims easier

Everyone in Second Life should have a translator. If you don’t feel like paying for one, get Ferd’s Free Translator or the Simbolic Translator.  I had a problem with Simbolic HUD placement, but otherwise it worked fine.  I loved Ferd’s.  It’s the one I’ll be using most of the time myself.  I’ll also use X-Lang for those occasions when its features are useful.  But Q-Translator and AF Translator both deserve consideration.  AF-Translator Basic was initially my favorite, but its inability to display the current lanugage settings became a nuisance for me.  Still, for the price, it merits consideration.  The Q-Translator’s numerous features make it a formidable competitor.  Try all of them before making a decision.

Where can you get these translators?  Here are the places where I got mine: