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Machine Translation or Human Translation, that’s the question

Machine Translation or Human Translation, that’s the question

With globalisation, market borders have faded and business has expanded into new areas. This has affected the way in which marketing is managed, as adding new markets means an increased complexity in terms of planning, languages and cultural adaptation.

With budget restrictions being imposed and turnaround requirements becoming more stringent, the translation process has had to be made quicker and more efficient, without speed acting to the detriment of quality. Just like any other industry, the translation industry has evolved and technology has become more sophisticated in helping professionals get the job done.

In come computers and the technologies that support translators in their daily work. I use the term ‘support’ deliberately, because technology has not yet evolved to the extent that it will put translators out of a job. If you’ve ever used Google Translate to translate something, you’ll know that the resulting translation may not convey the message you intended. Even simple sentences like “Translators are cool” are misinterpreted and translated into the faulty Spanish “Traductores son frescas”.

So what technologies are there these days and how are they used? Let’s first dwell on the different terms that are used in the field of automated translations:

CAT: Computer-Assisted Translation.

CAT tools are used by translators to pre-translate text segments on the basis of the vocabulary stored from previous translations. The tool translates what it recognises, and the translator has to complete the translation and edit the full text before it is final. The main advantage of CAT tools is that they allow translators to offer quicker turnaround times and that the terminology used is coherent throughout the text.

TM: Translation Memory

Translation Memories are a part of CAT tools. Every time a translator translates a segment, the computer stores the translation. When another similar segment comes along in the source text, the CAT tool pulls the previous translation of that segment out of the Translation Memory and inserts it for the translator to check. Translation memories can contain words and segments, and can be divided into fields of expertise or clients. Translation memories grow by the grace of the translators who use them.

MT: Machine Translation

Not to be confused with Translation Memory, even if the abbreviations are very similar! Machine Translation actually owes its existence to translations made by human translators. These translations are fed into a translation machine, so that it ‘learns’ to translate. The machine uses either statistical data or grammatical rules to translate. In the first case the machine basically uses the translation that it has encountered most often for a specific segment; in the latter, it uses grammar rules to put the translated words into the correct order.

Now what does this mean for you, the webshop owner, the marketer or the techie who needs manuals translated? What is the most cost-effective and qualitative way of getting your translations done?

Everything depends on the type of text that you want to have translated. In webshops, the names of products are usually repeated very often. A machine would for example be perfectly able to translate the various colours of bicycles that you offer on your website.

Maybe you also have a manual that shows how to assemble the bicycles. This text will be quite factual, but it will be written in a way that non-experts are able to understand. In this case, a part of the manual could be pre-translated with a CAT-tool (remember that you have your bicycle vocabulary in your TM), and a translator can fill in the gaps and edit the text so that it is easy to understand and nice to read.

However, if you have written a marketing text that is meant to boost the sales of your bicycles across various countries, the element of cultural reality comes into play. This means that (literal) translations will not do, and that you need a ‘local touch’ to make your marketing material appealing. This is where machines lose the race to humans, as the creativity required is not something that the former can offer. In this case, your translator should translate -and possibly transcreate- your material so that it strikes home in the target country.

The extent to which you can use Machine Translation really depends on the level of creativity required. Even if translation engines have evolved a great deal, and definitely have a contribution to make in the translation arena, they will not shove translators off their thrones just yet. And maybe they don’t need to. Like in many other situations, the best results will probably be achieved when the strengths of both are combined.

Would you like to know more about the different translation modes and how they can contribute to the growth of your business? Contact one of our translation workflow experts at contact@presencegroup.eu.