Accessing information locked in Chinese-language documents is virtually impossible if you don't speak the language, but the process could become much easier with new technology developed in Australia.
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23 Dec 2012 - 10:15 AM  UPDATED 26 Aug 2013 - 10:48 AM

As we move deeper into the Asian Century, building links with China is becoming increasingly important.

But unless you're bilingual or have access to a translator, accessing the wealth of information locked in Chinese langauge documents is virtually impossible.

Online tools like Google translate can help, but they are limited; best at translating single words and simple sentences.

Now, researchers from the school of Information Technologies at the University of Sydney believe they've developed a better method of extracting information from Chinese texts.

Research supervisor Josiah Poon says the new computational model uses a "linguistic approach" to examine patterns in the text.

"We look at all the grammar structures between the two languages, compare them and find unique patterns there," he explains.

Mr Poon says there are two schools of thought when it comes to the best way of extracting information from another language.

"One [method] is, you really try to understand the text. The other approach is, you don't.

"You find patterns, then you map the patterns to other patterns in another language, and that's the method we are using."

Masters student Cathy Xiao Yu says the research, which analysed documents from Chinese journals, newspapers and websites, will make translation a quicker, easier process.

"Our methods are much quicker," she says. "And also, our method is much more powerful because it can be used in different domains."

Professor Poon explains that the model will be able to be adapted to specific user requirements.

"You will actually have the power to decide what you want to find out from the document.

"That's good for flexibility and also usability."

The researchers hope the new model can be used to create a smartphone app, to help bring the technology to more users.

It's an idea that the University of Sydney supports, recently granting the project a Sydnovate award in an effort to elevate its commercial prospects.

But while technological tools can be time-saving devices, Sydney-based Chinese-English translator Yixuan Zhang says they're no replacement for the real thing.

"I don't think the translating tools can take the place of human intelligence," she says.

"A lot of factors and elements are invovled in translation, such as structure, grammar and context, which is really important."

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