Saturday, 1 February 2020

Why translators don’t fear the machines

The takeover of translations by machines is impending (or so we've been told).Why then don’t human translators fear the much talked-about rise of the machines?

As I see it, it all boils down to one simple answer: translators don’t fear the machines because a translation is created in a series of stages.

Most translations require human input

Machine translation is sometimes helpful in the first stage of creating a translation, but it then cannot contribute to what happens in subsequent stages. And where machine translation is no longer helpful, a human translator’s input will be required. 

Why don't human translators fear the rise of the machines?
(Image source: Peggy and Marco Lachmann-Anke on Pixabay)

The translation stages where machine translation is not helpful include, for example:

- Researching terminology in the particular field of the text

- Identifying and pointing out issues in the source text to the client, using appropriate grammatical terminology to describe and explain those issues, suggesting improvements

- Discussing the approach to “untranslatable” terms with the client

- Finding workaround solutions to tricky terms and phrases

- Applying client style guidelines to the translation

- Creating coherence between the individual parts of the text

- Improving the first draft of a translation (also known as “rough translation”)

- Improving the translation further

- Checking that correct punctuation has been used

- Formatting the file

- Eradicating errors (including errors potentially introduced by machine translation!)

- Printing off the translation and checking it on paper

- Double-checking that correct numbers and/or reference numerals (in patents) have been used

- Rewriting the translation (where required) so that it reads like a text that is idiomatically phrased in the target language

- Ensuring that the underlying meaning of the original text has been accurately conveyed (as we know, language is full of ambiguities!)

- Checking that technical terms have been used consistently throughout the translation

- Editing, fine-tuning and polishing the translated text

- Putting a human touch to the translation

Anyone who believes that a translation can be produced by the simple push of a button is unaware that a translation is created in stages. Machine translation may be useful during the first of those stages, but creating a fit-for-purpose translation is a long, drawn-out and intricate process.

A good translation cannot be produced by the simple push of a button
(Image source: Gerd Altmann on Pixabay)

Afterthought: Nobody knows, of course, what's still going to happen on the AI front, and some of the tasks above will maybe be taken over by robots one day. Right now, we're still very far away from it. I also personally believe that we will never get to a stage where robots will be like humans.

(A German translation of this blog article is available here.)