Man Vs Machine…Translation

Welcome to the Ring

In the red corner, standing 5’8” and weighing in at 165lbs. He types 80 words per minute and speaks three languages. He has remained undefeated for HUNDREDS and hundreds of years. I give you…THE HUMAN TRANSLATOR.

And in the blue corner, standing…well…it doesn’t really stand and weighing…um does computer code weigh anything? It can translate a document of any size into any language in seconds. He’s the newest challenger in the industry but seems to be unstoppable. Here is…MACHINE TRANSLATION.

The Blow by Blow

Human translation and machine translation both have their strengths and weaknesses and their usefulness depends on context. Let’s take a look at what makes both translation strategies unique and explore some of their benefits and drawbacks.

The Human Translator

The human translator is exactly what it sounds like, a human doing the translating. Now, keep in mind, we aren’t talking a pen and paper process here. Technology does play a huge role in human translating. Aside from word processing, projects tend to use project management workflow software to keep everything on track. Human translators can also use what is known as “translation memory management” systems. Essentially, this is a database that stores translatable “units” (sentences, headings, even paragraphs of text). It helps a project with more than one translator become one cohesive output. This software is especially popular with very technical translations (think machine operating manuals). You need to have processes, instructions, or machine parts defined in the same way. Translation memory helps you do that.

Benefits:

  • Human translators strike a balance between the words you use and the ideas you are trying to get across. This leaves you with a cohesive, error free project
  • Human translators are bound by significant quality standards thus your project is handled very carefully
  • Human translators can verify information and give recommendations to improve your project

 

Drawbacks:

  • Human translators are not available for free download
  • Their output isn’t instantaneous
  • They consume all of the coffee in the office

 

Human translators should be consulted when handling large, complex projects that require high quality translations (ecommerce websites, marketing material, software localization, books and ebooks, movie subtitles, etc).

 

Machine Translation

Google has done a superb job in their creation of machine translation software. They provide near instant translations, regardless of word count. Their algorithms have improved significantly since their beta-launch. Machine translation approaches a document from a word-for-word point of view. It looks at individual units of language, not the totality of meaning, sometimes with hilarious results.

Benefits:

  • Extremely fast
  • Extremely inexpensive (often free)
  • Near endless options for language availability
  • Conveniently available from any computer

 

Drawbacks:

  • Will not contextualize the translation, which often leads to some pretty funny translation errors
  • Will not proofread. If you’ve made a mistake, it will translate it anyways
  • Some English phrases and idioms cannot be translated with the same meaning, machine translation doesn’t notice.

 

As you can see, machine translation software is pretty awesome if you need to quickly translate something. Say, if you’re emailing your Korean pen pal or your Romanian grandmother sent you your favorite recipe (at least that’s what you think it is…). But because it can’t contextualize your words and it won’t alert you to an error if your thoughts won’t be expressed as intended, you should avoid using machine translation on projects associated with your business or organization. It’s risky. Some companies have had PR nightmares from poor translations.

 

IT’S A TOTAL KNOCKOUT!

The human translator retains its title. Well, maybe I fixed the match but I truly believe there is no replacement for human translation.

 

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