Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Machine Translation May Help - When Implemented Properly

Machine Translation, also known as computer translation, has gone through a roller coaster of a popularity curve. It has been hailed as a breakthrough in the translation industry, all while acquiring a negative reputation for resulting in embarrassing mistakes. While Machine Translation has made significant progress in the past 10 years, most translators and translation agencies continue to shun the technology. Leading industry experts however, including those from the American Translator’s Association (ATA), have encouraged translation agencies to adopt machine translation as a tool that can be utilized for practical purposes.

A recent survey conducted by the ATA, found that 90% of American translators believe that machine translation has practical uses in business. Yet translators and agencies still have difficulty in convincing their customers that machine translation is a viable option that can save time and costs, and these concerns are certainly understandable. Machine translation is not perfect, and below are some pros and cons of the controversial technology:

Machine Translation is good for:
  • Translating casual interactions such as emails, tweets, Facebook and LinkedIn. The U.S. government is also known to use Machine Translation to get a “gist” of important social issues being reported in Arabic-language media. This allows them to focus on certain issues so a professional translator can further focus on translating highly pertinent material.
  • When timing clearly overweighs accuracy: translation of large volumes of text or short phrases for spontaneous two-way communication 
  • Understanding highly specialized and highly repeated documents such as patent and scholarly research 
  • Very short life span materials such as news, review of a restaurant, and weather reports 
Yet the industry’s consensus is that machine translation is NOT capable in accurately translating:
  • Highly decorated language, such as romance copy for marketing materials
  • Frequently used documents such as operating manuals or maintenance instructions
  • Documents with a high liability: HR procedures, legal contracts, product packaging and labels
While weighing in the pros and cons, it is no doubt that Machine Translation can produce unexpected results when not used properly, which is why it is recommended that certain guidelines should be followed when utilizing Machine Translation. Machine translation should never be used by someone who is not fluent in the source and target language. Non-fluent speakers may not fully understand the nuances of the language that a fluent speaker will understand and could result in awkward to incorrect translation.

A translator however; is able to modify the machine translation and make it purposely useful. Colloquialisms for example, will often be translated incorrectly via machine translation. However; non-fluent speakers may find machine translation purposeful in non professional communication. Yet it is advisable that before the communication begins, it is understood that machine translation is being used so that the person you are communicating with will understand if they encounter language errors coming from you.

Ultimately, it is best to consult a translation professional when in doubt. While most translation agencies do not utilize Machine Translation, it is certainly appropriate to weigh in this option. Machine translation may very well indeed be beneficial to your business if used appropriately, particularly when used in every day communication.

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