Translation agencies relish it, professional translators tremble at the
thought of it.
Yet, what do machine translations have to offer, and what not?
Let's start right from the very beginning. Before the 1990s, if we wanted to
translate a text, we had to consult professional translators trained to
use dictionaries and choose the right words. Indeed, since a word often
has different meanings, we would have to use the context
to find out the right one
This was a time-consuming job. So, this was also when machine translation was introduced. Getting a quick and
cheap translation was the motto, but the result was often very bad quality
That is why the typical word-for-word translation technique was
abandoned. Machine translation became a combination of pure machine
translation and human translations. Also Google Translate's database is
filled with translations that have been produced by humans. Take away
the human contribution, and it becomes a totally useless tool
However, it is not
because human translations are used in machine
translation that machine translation suddenly becomes a valid
alternative to pure human translation.
Translation agencies that often use machine translation often talk
the work of translators who correct the machine translation and receive at best, half their normal translation rate
those agencies do not mention, is that these translations are of poor
quality even after the correction. The translators in question, who are often not professional translators and only hired for knowing a language
, are always coerced into a specific style by the machine translation: the machine's style.
Their task mainly consists of correcting language errors. If they were
to translate the text from scratch, the translation would look a whole
Machine translation has
everything to do with money and nothing with quality.
On top of that, we have to remember that machine translation continuously needs less
post-editing due to the increasing level of human input. It becomes an easy
means to earn money
. Software for machine translation is also available
for professional translators, often for free.
They only need to invest some time. Yet, the professional
translators do not do so. With good reason: they prefer quality to
quantity. Their quality is exactly what distinguishes them from
those who do make use of machine translation.
After some time, machine translation with minimal human input
via post-editing may indeed produce an understandable
but not necessarily a good translation
This, of course, does not mean that there is no market for machine translation.
Industries that always have the same types of texts (e.g. IT and
automobile industries) - where texts of excellent quality are less
important and sufficiently
suffices - might often end up using machine translation. Nevertheless, there are quite a few conditions: the used
terminology must not be ambiguous, there is no room for idiomatic
expressions and it does not all have to be perfect.
That means, for instance, that legal and marketing documents are, right from the
very start, destined to be a failure
if they are translated through machine translation.
Problems related to the use of machine translation
It is often forgotten that machine translation assumes that the source
text is of impeccable quality. Anyone with experience in the
translation industry knows this does not happen often. Bad grammar,
spelling errors, missing words, incomplete sentences, they occur very
A translator can spot and correct these errors and still produce a
great translation. Unless of course, unqualified translators are hired
to try and correct a machine translation at a very low price; resulting in chaos.
We have not even touched on differentiations, subtleties,
idiomatic expressions, ambiguities, puns,
word colouring, tone... all of which you will find in texts on a daily
basis, but which machine translation cannot handle, and never will be
able to handle. Language is simply too complex.
There is also a cultural aspect. There are countries where badly translated
texts are easily accepted. However, in countries such as Canada, Switzerland
and, of course, Belgium the population is less tolerant. Badly
written documents are a disaster to a company's image
Machine translation is not that different.
In the translation industry there is a standard that says there are
three factors in a translation: quick, cheap, and good quality.
Two of those factors can be offered, but never the three factors
That is also valid for machine translation: it is quick, it is cheap,
but it is not good.
Whoever tries to convince you of the contrary, is selling marketing
that you quickly regret listening to.
Apart from the quality issue, there are other considerations that need to be taken into account when dealing with machine translation. Think about confidentiality
. What happens to your documents that are translated by a
translation agency with machine translation? You have absolutely no
idea nor control. That does not mean that your documents are being
distributed, but the risk is much greater than with a professional
translator who works 'serverless' on his or her own computer.
Companies using their own database but also external
services such as Google Translate, not only receive information from
those external services but also send information to them. Confidentiality is not always guaranteed!
When a company receives a translation that was produced using machine
translation, does it have a copyright to the translation? Copyright is
only applicable if the work is the result of a creative effort and is
an original work. In the case of machine translation, there is no
creative effort, let alone an original work. Therefore, there is no
A company that uses machine translation has no legal ground to
prosecute people who use the machine translated texts without credit or
I am painting things in black and white here. Then again,
whoever is thinking of using machine translation should take all of this information into account.
If you want a high-quality translation, you can only contact a
professional translator. Quality costs money and time.
Machine translation can, at best, lead to 'understandable' translations. It is the end customer's responsibility to determine what factor is of paramount importance: on the one hand, there is speed and price and on the other hand, there is professional
Machines translate words, translators and
interpreters translate language.
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