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Assumptions on Machine Translation Services; what you may or may not know

This blog looks at some common assumptions about machine translation to help you decide whether it is suitable for your translation requirements.

Machine translation is not the new kid on the block and by now, most translation professionals and Language Service Providers (LSPs) have more or less taken sides in the ongoing man vs. machine debate. This blog does not mean to draw any swords, but rather look at some common assumptions about machine translation to help you decide whether it is suitable for your translation requirements.

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Machine Translation (MT), like saying Computer-assisted Translation (CAT)

This is a common misconception as translation technology is often a source of confusion for anyone new to the industry. In fact, Machine Translation and Computer-assisted Translation utilize different approaches and lead to increasingly different results.

In a nutshell, MT is the translation of text by a computer, with no human involvement. According to how sophisticated MT programs are, they either substitute words from one language to another or analyze huge amounts of text for recurring patterns in order to formulate statistical rules for translation. This deconstruction/reconstruction model sounds logical, except that language is not strict mathematics. It can be whimsical, non-standard, and figurative and that is where its beauty lies.

In comparison, CAT software uses a variety of tools to boost translators’ productivity, particularly when translating highly repetitive texts. These tools connect to translation memories were previously translated content is stored and offer terminology functions for ensuring consistency across translation.

Machine Translation will eliminate the need for human translators

Skilled and qualified translators are irreplaceable and will always be an asset to the industry. However, while the translation world is arguing about the pros and cons of MT, the latter is taking steps forward. The new age of MT technology attempts to address the limitations of previous generations by tailoring approaches to various languages and sectors. In its current state, MT lacks the insight of a professional human translator. However, following human post-editing, the quality can become fit for purpose.

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Machine Translation is good for nothing

Regardless of one’s views on the current state of MT, discrediting it completely is like demonizing technology altogether; and before the translation world denounces me altogether, let me elaborate. What is the one, unbeatable feature of MT? It is quick! Near-real-time communication is one scenario in which using the services of a professional translator may not be viable or necessary. Today, numerous gadgets and applications enable speakers of different languages to converse in real-time via machine translation. This exciting technology is very helpful for on-the-spot translation needs, and it serves its purpose well.

In a strictly professional context, depending on clients’ needs, MT can be a cost-effective solution to translating high volumes of content swiftly. Clients who only need to know roughly what the text is about may be able to benefit from that option, especially when it comes to large amounts of text for internal purposes, in which case professional translation could be prohibitively expensive.

Then let’s machine translate our content-heavy website!

Having suggested possible uses for MT, it is important to highlight that, without post-editing by a professional translator, it will most likely provide a word-for-word equivalent, which may be comprehensible but will not sound natural and may not keep the original meaning. MT struggles with subtle aspects of language, such as humor and metaphor, and there is little to no regard for style and cultural context. Therefore, when you are looking to develop your international marketing strategy, you really need human creative translation to do it justice and ensure your message comes across as it should.

What about Confidentiality?

The biggest lie on the web can be summarised in the following phrase: “I have read and accept the Terms and Conditions.” An important point, often overlooked, is that by using free online MT, users grant all rights to given service providers. This can undermine confidentiality and intellectual property rights, putting you to legal accountability. Therefore, when it comes to confidential business documents, you are better off with a professional MT software package.

…so Machine Translation is not free?

Today, MT technology ranges from free online translation services to sophisticated MT solutions by translation software companies. The latter can be expensive to obtain, set up, and maintain. Moreover, online MT solutions may save money in the short-term but come at a price if not used for the right purposes, from legal troubles to damaging a company’s message and credibility.

In short, automated technology can be an optimal solution for high-quality professional services in many sectors. However, when it comes to important translation projects that will be shown to a global audience until it is possible for a computer to grasp cultural and linguistic nuances, it is best to leave the translation to those who do it best.

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