Translation and Interpreting in 150+ Languages
Is the ice safe? Natuurijs in the Netherlands
January 7, 2010 - By: - In: Machine Translation - 21 comments

What does ice formation have to do with translation? Well, I’m finding it hard to stay on top of the Dutch ice-up when I don’t speak the language. Maybe I should be calling this blog “Lost in Google Translation” because TranslationGuy is not doing so good with his ice-condition Dutch these days.  I have been trying to follow the freeze in the Netherlands for the last two years so I can realize my life-long dream to shave Dutch ice.

I love to skate, but hate to go in circles. As a kid in Pennsylvania, skating on the farm ponds that would freeze up for a week or two was fun, and Wollman Rink in Central Park is a truly great skate just a few blocks from my place, but my dream was to go as canal-straight as Hans Brinker skating off into the sunset.

Last year, for the first time in 12 years, the canals finally froze. And I found out after the melt. While everyone in Holland was having a mega skate season, I was doing laps in Central Park, around and around in total Dutch ignorance. This year, I swore it wouldn’t happen. I’ve implored every Dutchman and woman I know for information, and I’ve tried to follow events on and using Google Translate, but it hasn’t been easy.

Why? Because Google Translate stinks. (You would think Dutch machine translation would be good because of the strong correspondence between English and Dutch, but it’s not, I guess for programming and lexicon resource reasons.) But the real problem is that machine translations are push-solutions, meaning that you’ve got to identify the content you want to translate first, because the tools can’t do it for you. I suppose you could use search terms such as “natuurijs” (natural ice) and then translate your findings, but that takes a lot of time, and the search results are dominated by accounts of the Elfstedentocht, or “Eleven Cities Tour,” a 200-kilometer mega-tour of the province of Friesland known as “the mother of all skating tours.” There has got to be a better way to get to this kind of information on the real-time web, the way we do it in our native languages. I haven’t figured it out yet.

As a hockey pond kind of skater, I don’t know a snow cone’s worth about the way skating is done in the Netherlands. Tours and tickets and maps and signposts and pea soup stands (an additional source of propulsion) ― very interesting and a complete mystery.  As is the weather, as always.  So I must continue to rely on the kindness of Dutch strangers (and friends) for guidance.

The Molentocht Alblasserwaard Tour seems great, since that seems likely to offer sufficient wind-mill-age to achieve a Hans Brinker-like state of mind, or the Negendorpentocht Krimpernerwaard for a maximum Bruegelistic experience. What to do? Rent a car or take the train?  And most importantly, when to go?!

I’ve got my fingers crossed that the freeze-up will continue. So, if you have any suggestions or info on ice conditions, please share them with me, and this post can become a clearing-house for other Natuurijs-istas who are Dutch-language deprived. Hope to see you on the ice!

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