Translators in the Times of Machine Translation

Last Updated August 10, 2015

Human translators continue to be an indispensable cog in the wheel.

Google Translate processes 143 billion words every day. Machine translation is doing some heavy lifting, but human translators are here to stay.

This is precisely where translation as a service comes in. Today’s world economy is dominated by e-commerce companies and international businesses.

Your content must be translated from its original language into a number of different languages to ensure it reaches all corners of the world.

Maximizing the reach of a message leads to more understanding and connection. That leads to increased engagement with consumers and ultimately more sales.

Translation Categories

Human Translators

A person first decodes or decrypts the source text. They then re-encrypt (‘translate’ in common parlance) the same text into the desired target language.

Machine Translation

Human program a specialized software to comprehend a body of text like a human being would. The machine creates a new body of (translated) text in the desired target language, with minimal (or ideally zero) human intervention.

Machine Translation vs. Human translators.

The crux of the matter? Translation is, surprisingly, several times more complex than merely writing in a particular language.

And since language isn’t just about playing with words, machines have not yet arrived at the point where they can make sense of a language the way humans can.

Superficially, maybe yes; but that’s about it.

Let’s examine this statement a bit closer.

Machine Translation

No doubt, machine translation has a lot going for it.

First and foremost, it is an excellent research vehicle.

An average human translator is thought to be able to translate at the most 2000 words a day. Machine translation generates thousands of words per minute and saves the day when you are pressed for time.

And compared to human translation, it is quick, cheap and also confidential. You don’t have to entrust your classified information to any third person who might end up misusing it.

Moreover, machine and online translations are generally universal in nature. This differs from a professional human translator who can specialize in only one field or language at a time.

Since computers originally came into being in order to boost human productivity, we assume that it can only be beneficial to use them to our advantage.

Or is it?

Human Translators

Now, let’s look at the other side of the coin.

Machine translation saves time, but what about accuracy? The end product is usually just a mechanically translated group of system-generated words, based on certain formal rules. It’s an approximation or the ‘gist’ of the original content.

One would assume that in the present world of cutting-edge technology, the translation tools would be fairly developed and the process more streamlined.

The translators, though, have a different story to tell.

Even today, there is no proper ‘What You See Is What You Get’ tool to provide for in-context translation of websites in the digital world. This results in the translators spending more time than required working on different systems for each step of the machine translation process.

In this entire melee, there is a heightened probability of errors creeping in due to the many steps involved. Remember, in the beginning our sole purpose for using machines as translators was to simplify the entire process.

Is this what we could then call ‘simplifying things’?

The Bottom Line

The most important factor that goes against machine translations: It lacks accuracy and needs the manual intervention of a translator to make corrections.

Machines can’t concentrate on a particular context and analyze it from the points of view of grammar, semantics or even idioms.

Translators prioritize quality, whereas machine translations are more about literal translations of groups of words, irrespective of what they would eventually end up to mean.

For instance, if you go by what Google Translate says, then “Tom Cruise is Spanish for Heath Ledger”. On the other hand, the Spanish for Tom Cruise is Tom Cruise. Why? Go figure.

Language barriers are being broken down and the present era is witnessing a revolution in the role of traditional human translators, thanks to what we know as MT + PE (Machine Translation + Post-Editing) together.

Would it be fair to say that the machine translation technology is a welcome addition to the erstwhile exclusively manual world of translation?

Definitely, provided the machines eventually learn to tackle the cognitive aspect of content as well.

Until then, human translators will continue to be an indispensable cog in the wheel of the grand scheme of things in the translation world.

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