Multilingual communication in a digital world

Posts tagged ‘computational linguistics’

Why Machine Translation Isn’t Enough

English: Basic sketch of brain areas involved ...

English: Basic sketch of brain areas involved in language. Author: Reid Offringa creation date: 1/9/06 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Technology is definitely a friend to professional translators. Many of us use on-line glossaries and google academic searches for linguistic and industry research; it’s fast and easy and extremely useful. But many times Machine Translation (MT) tools simply slow me down. I can’t speak for my colleagues in the translation/language services profession, but my brain can process more general terms in context much more quickly than any existing MT tool; I’ve tested it. The human brain is built to store much more data and to be sensitive to context, which is everything for meaning, whereas MT tools are great at recognizing the lexical item and regurgitating an analogous one, but not necessarily the correct one for the context. (Although, Google Translate is pretty good at chunking

Illustration of bad machine translation from E...

Illustration of bad machine translation from English to Swedish, using Shakespeare and a robot (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

but, again, read carefully! If you are not fully bilingual you may not catch the subtle shift in meaning!)

Penny wise but pound foolish

The upshot of all this is that, more often than not, MT is not a suitable replacement for a human translator. If time and money is of the essence, then clients and language service agencies should not be trying to save a penny (or to pay a penny, as one potential client of mine recently did – they went with an agency in Colombia that bid .01/per translated word) by using machine translation because it takes longer to undo (most often it is just more economical, in terms of both money and time, simply to re-do the entire translation) by using MT tools and, perhaps (caveat emptor: this best practice is not often actually applied), a proofreader or translator to review it. Sometimes what seems like a straight line, and therefore the shortest route, is so full of “traffic” that the seemingly less direct route is actually the shortest in time…and cost.

PS See – and be sure to “Like!” – our Facebook page for some entertaining translation gaffes…a few are old chestnuts, but they are still so very valid in today’s “short-cut” world!