It is no secret that the world is moving on towards a bright future. Technology is improving all the time and some of the advancements are staggering. It can be normal to wonder if some industries still have a place in a world filled with so many wonderful new technologies.
Professional translation services have been around for centuries. Almost as soon as people speaking different languages met, they needed skilled translators to help them understand one another. But is this ancient profession going to be outdone by technology?
What is machine translation?
Machine translation is when you use a computer program or a piece of software to do translations for you. This is a relatively new technology in terms of the history of languages, though it has been around for a number of years now. These programs can be rather simple or much more complex. Probably the most common translation software that people use is Google Translate. However, there are many other options out there. Some are free while some cost money. Nonetheless, they all have enough similarities that we can talk about them in a general sense.
How does machine translation work?
It’s pretty easy to imagine how a trained human translator works, right? Someone who speaks both languages fluently will read the text and translate it into the new language using their skills. However, it is harder to imagine how a machine can translate words – after all, we know that computers don’t really speak or listen or understand words, right?
Computers translate using algorithms. Algorithms are complex sets of rules which tell a computer what to do. All computer programs use algorithms, and the range of tasks a program can complete usually depends on how many rules it has – how complex its algorithm is.
Pros of computer translation
As with many fields, in translation, computers do have some benefits over humans. The first and most obvious is that machine translation can be a lot cheaper than hiring a professional. In some cases, like with Google Translate, it can even be free. This can absolutely be appealing to a lot of organizations and businesses who need to keep their outgoing expenses low.
Time is another factor where machine translation can excel. As with many other repetitive tasks, computers can translate documents very quickly, much faster than a human can. This can be extremely useful if you need something translated in an extreme rush.
However, as with anything, there are good and bad aspects
Cons of machine translation.
So, where does a translation program fall flat? There are many reasons why you might want a professional human translation service over a machine translation. The most significant one is tone. Computers will translate text by looking at individual words or short phrases against a database. They will then translate each word as they find it. This can cause a lot of problems. Very commonly, computers will struggle to translate the tone and nuance of a piece of text. This would mean that while the text might end up being correct, it can sound very clunky and awkward, especially to native speakers of the target language. When compared with human translators, there is really no competition – as humans can read and understand the source document as a whole, they will make sure that the tone and voice of the text remain unchanged from the original. This is very important to make sure people trust your documents and websites.
Another problem that a computer might have is with accuracy. People commonly think that computers are completely accurate all the time, but this is only the case within the confines of their programming. If there is an error in the source document it may not be picked up by a computer. Many languages also have words that have two or more meanings, or which have subtly different meanings based on the words around them. Since computers do not necessarily take this into account, they can often translate words slightly incorrectly, whereas humans can understand this nuance and make sure the text is accurate.
So can a computer match a human?
Looking at the pros and cons of machine translation, it becomes pretty clear that human and machine translations have different strengths. While machine translation may be more convenient, it would be foolish to overlook the massive accuracy and readability increases that come from using professional translation services.
Ultimately, while technology has made fantastic leaps over the last few years, translation technologies cannot currently keep up with the skills of a trained professional linguist – and this will no doubt continue to be the case for many years yet. After all, languages keep expanding and becoming more complex all the time, which humans are best equipped to keep abreast of.