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While looking for literature relevant to my research topic, I came across a number of papers in Russian. Russian is Greek to me. What should I do? Is there an online platform that may help me? What about Google Translate? How effective is it?

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  • Related: academia.stackexchange.com/q/37906/68109
    – GoodDeeds
    Sep 17 at 10:19
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    No. Not this one. I want to read that paper. Is there a way to translate a paper online?
    – Ashiq
    Sep 17 at 10:23
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    Depends on the field and how old the papers are. For physics in the 50's-80's many of the main Soviet journals were translated and published in English.
    – Jon Custer
    Sep 17 at 13:09
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    Just a note, it's generally a lot easier to learn to read a paper in a language than to gain conversational fluency in that language. This applies especially if the language is related to one you know. A combination of recognizing cognates plus knowing what's going on in the field can draw your attention straight to the critical words and findings. Sep 18 at 14:15
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First, ask an academic librarian to help you find a translation. You can also ask the authors, assuming they are still alive, if they know of a translation into a language you are more comfortable with.

For some fields, though not so much for technical ones, Google Translate does an adequate job. But technical translation is still very difficult due to specialized vocabulary and such.

If you can't read the paper, see if you can read some of the papers that it cites. Or try to read other papers that cite it.

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    'technical translation is still very difficult due to specialized vocabulary and such' On the other hand, a lot of STEM-related vocabulary in Russian consists of loan words from English and French, more-or-less straightforwardly transliterated into the Cyrillic alphabet (and a lot of the English and French words in turn are collections of two or three ancient Greek words stuck together). Sep 17 at 15:28
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    The last time I used Google Translate to translate a paper of Einstein into English it was way too mangled to be able to retrieve properly meaningful information from it.
    – Tom
    Sep 17 at 22:03
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    I've personally found the approach suggested in the last sentence quite useful.
    – Kimball
    Sep 17 at 23:45
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Did you consider paying for a translation? If the research is done on behalf of a company, then providing a translation for hundred or so pages would be pennies for them. If it's for a university, maybe the grant could cover it. This advice won't be applicable for all circumstances, but for others it would be the most straightforward and error-proof method.

Just imagine how many misunderstanding you can create by relying on Google Translate alone. I use it often for lyric translation and there were numerous times, when I completely misunderstood a song because of the broken translation.

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  • Yes, Google Translate isn't very good about metaphor and metaphors don't always translate well. The same issue applies to technical terms, I think. Also what is "the grand"?
    – Buffy
    Sep 17 at 20:55
  • @Buffy sorry, I meant "grant". Money received for research from government, foundations and investors. Sep 17 at 20:59
  • I should have picked that up, I guess. Welcome to the site.
    – Buffy
    Sep 17 at 21:00
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    @GoodDeeds no, I meant "error-proof" : P Sep 17 at 21:11
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    By the way. In US (at least) idiom, a "grand" or a "large" is $1000. I think that is what threw me off. But it makes the point of this whole thread.
    – Buffy
    Sep 17 at 22:01
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Obviously, the best options are for you to get a friend who knows the language or learn the language yourself. But in the meantime, try this:

  1. Download the paper as a PDF file.
  2. If the paper is a little bit old or is composed of scanned images, use a good software to do Optical Character Recognition (Adobe Acrobat should do the trick).
  3. While the PDF file is open, copy a few paragraphs of text (3 or 4 should be ok)
  4. Open an Internet browser such as Chrome.
  5. Paste the text (Ctrl-V) into the address bar (yes, the address bar!) This will collapse all of the lines into a single, unbroken section of text.

Note: this step is actually quite important. It is sometimes the case that when you copy a few lines of text from a PDF into Google Translate, the pasted text will appear as broken sentences (i.e., broken at the line break points), and as a result Google Translate will only translate each of the fragmented, incomplete sentences instead of reading the fragments as a single continuous sentence. This will negatively affect translation quality, which is already not that great to begin with.

  1. Select the whole text from the address bar (Ctrl-A)
  2. Cut or copy the text (Ctrl-X or Ctrl-C)
  3. Paste the text into Google Translate.
  4. If necessary, print each translated section as a PDF file so that you can reference it later.
  5. Repeat the process until you've read the whole thing.
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    Google Translate allows you to upload PDFs directly, so you can directly go to step 8 after step 2.
    – GoodDeeds
    Sep 17 at 11:13
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    Yes, that is quite correct, but only if the PDF file is within 2MB. Scanned PDF files will usually have larger file sizes. Another caveat is that for some PDFs, Google Translate sometimes fails to read the text as an unbroken section, and that will affect the quality of the translation.
    – djohn
    Sep 17 at 11:30
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    Google translate has given me really terrible results with math, though.
    – Buffy
    Sep 17 at 11:42
  • Indeed, and not just math; it's also problematic for other academic fields. However, I have noticed the quality improving in the last year, and this method is still useful if one just wants to find if this paper is something that is worth reading in detail. If the paper is really valuable, it would justify tracking down a native speaker (and paying them) to make a good translation.
    – djohn
    Sep 17 at 11:45
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    There are other online translators that may work better than Google. For example, linguee.com, spanishdict.com/translation (for Spanish), or deepl.com/en/translator
    – Neithea
    Sep 17 at 13:28

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