Advances in machine translation have been making headlines recently. With the refinement of Google Translate’s capabilities, Japan’s use of real-time megaphone translation and the invention of in-ear translation devices, you would be forgiven for thinking that the human aspect of translation is under threat.
Certainly, machine translation has its advantages; if you need to quickly translate a few words or phrases, or if you simply wish to get the essence of a document, then it offers a simple (and cost-effective) way to do so. If your intended audience is within the company or if the text is not for professional use, machine translation tools are a popular choice.
However, machine translation has its limitations. In most other situations, the need for accuracy in translation means that human input is paramount. You would not wish to distribute a corporate document full of contextual errors, inconsistent translations and unnatural phrasing. A translator is trained in conveying the source text in the most suitable way for the target audience, be it in style, tone or vocabulary. They take every important aspect into account before committing to a phrase, in a way that machine translation is not capable of doing.
There is also the creative side to language; puns, metaphors, rhymes, idioms and other intelligent interactions between words that require a level of imagination and experience unique to humans. This is where a translator is needed; someone who knows how to interpret text, rather than to simply churn out the translation of each individual word. For example, donner sa langue au chat is an informal French way of saying that you give up and that you do not want to guess any longer. Machine translation tools provide a literal translation of to give one’s tongue to the cat from which it would be easy to misinterpret the meaning as cat got your tongue, a different expression altogether. This is where a translator is needed; someone who knows how to interpret text, rather than to simply churn out the translation of each individual word.
Despite the limitations of machine translation, it would be wrong to assume that all translation technology is redundant. Quite the opposite. As a modern translation agency, we welcome the developments in translation technology and use industry-leading language tools to our advantage. Our skilled linguists are trained to work with the latest in translation software, including translation memory technology, to support a swift yet thorough translation process. By working with technology rather than parallel to it, we ensure that we deliver the highest quality translations. As human beings, we can judge, lead and improve on the technology, whilst still maintaining that crucial human touch.