section Why automatic translation is realistic
First we should distinguish between automatic translation, simple word replacement and consulting a dictionary. Companies seem to market dictionary programs sometimes as "translators". A program which allows the user to get a dictionary entry for a word, with corresponding words, or "translations", in one's native language, can definitely be very useful; but it is definitely not a language translator. Similarly, a program which "translates" simply by replacing each word by its "equivalent" in another language should not be called a translator, although it can be useful for some purposes in special cases. What we mean by automatic translation here is a process which involves at least some minimal grammatical analysis of the source text and generation of corresponding text in the target language. The depth and quality of the process may vary a lot.
There is a large number of automatic translation software available. For a list of some of them, please refer to Information on Computer-Assisted Translation Software by the Oxford University Language Centre. A short document Do you have any information on automatic translation software? by LTG lists a few services especially for translating Web pages. See also Langenscheidts T1 Test Drive which demonstrates translation of German and Spanish (in plain text format) into English.
It is very easy to see that automatic translation does not (currently) work well for poetry, for example. It is a cheap amusement to use a tool for something it is not intended for and laugh at the result. Babelfish takes a good attitude on this; its Translation Tips urge people to try that, too:
Idioms and slang -- phrases like "the whole nine yards" or "what's up, Doc?" in American English -- are notoriously hard to translate well, particularly when the computer doesn't know the context of the phrase. Try a few for some good laughs.
Cheap Entertainment, Part 2
Remember the old game Gossip -- where one person whispers something to the next person, then the second to the third, and so on, then everyone has a good laugh about what comes out at the end? Try that with translations. Just start with one languages, then translate that to another, then another, then another, then back to the original.
After such good laughs, perhaps people are willing to consider what else the software can do, and how it performs in the areas it was designed for.
Next subsection: Examples