Our heavy reliance on technology in today’s world is glaringly obvious. The use of technology to solve our problems makes sense, right? Well, yes when the solution suits the problem.
Science fiction offers plenty of examples for the “universal translator”, which seems to solve the world’s different language communication problems in an instant. Sadly, we have yet to reach Star Trek era technologies (circa 2151).
Today’s artificial intelligence seems to make earnest attempts at translating, but there are obviously times where this can be lacking.
How does this ultimatum fare for those of us with the need to communicate across different languages? It really is quite simple, both have their strengths and weaknesses.
Machine & Human Translators: The Pros and Cons
Machine Translation: If someone needs a quick turnaround and only requires basic understanding for the nature of the communication, machine translation is a solid choice. Human translation is absolutely time consuming. For example, if a simple translation of a small phrase is required, simply plug it into something such as Google Translate and boom!
Human Translation: Yes, human translation takes longer, however, this is because human translation fills voids left by computer algorithms, which adds to the duration of a project. Though they are constantly improving, machine translation tools have yet to catch up with human translators in many ways. Human translators have a command of both languages, enabling them to not only translate a document, but make suggestions to meanings of phrases, style, flow and core messages.
Translation Costs: The difference in cost between machine translation and human translation are objectively noticeable. This point makes sense when comparing the two, given that most human translators operate on a per word, or per page cost basis. Having said this, what a customer of a human translator receives for this money is what makes the real difference. It all comes down to the purpose of the translation. Is this a scholarly article to be published internationally? How about a critical business document offering important terms for negotiation? Purpose in translating documents defines what services one requires. An automated computer algorithm can be cheaper, but it’s not going to “think” for the client. Computers don’t recognize when something is afoul, and they definitely can’t suggest improvements to the language for the sake of clarity.
Meanings of Words: Real or Perceived: Translation can be risky business, hence the phrase “lost in translation.” While machine translation tools are practical in certain applications, it is here that human translators really have the upper (non-robotic) hand. A human translator understands how things are going to be received once they are sent out upon completion. Localization is a big check in the pro column for human translation. Artificial intelligence may be gaining ground, but to remain competitive in distinct areas, a human translator is still preferred. What do we mean by this? A machine translation service will not be able to fix formats for local addresses, dates or phone numbers. Nor will a machine translator understand local culture tastes and consumption habits of local residents.
Words and phrases not only change their meaning in one language, but also across languages. A skilled human translator will identify a phrase or word that could be perceived as offensive, vague or just plain wrong, and offer alternative solutions.
A machine translator will not be able to pick up on such inexplicable things such as idioms. Nor will a machine translator be able to offer suggestions if an error like this is discovered.
Machine vs. Human Translation Conclusion
Application, application, application. That’s the name of the game. When deciding on who or what to use in the translation of documents, it’s paramount to decide the purpose of your document. Formal business documents or anything to be published professionally, human translators will ensure the message you are sending will be received as intended.
However, if the need arises to message a friend in another language, click open Google Translate and let the magical world of technology improve your life. Just don’t be surprised if you get back some angry responses, because things do often get “lost in translation.”
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