As the years go by, our quality of life is greatly improved by technological innovations. A question commonly asked by many, though, is whether machines will ever make humans redundant. In the translation industry, in particular, the debate has been taking place for years around machine translation.
What is Machine Translation?
Machine translation is the automatic conversion of words and phrases from one language into another. In other words, it involves computerised translation with zero human input. This software uses databases and statistics to analyse structures, break them down, and recreate their elements in other languages.
In an article by Sure Languages, the author explains that “machine translation works well with formulaic language.” In other words, “with small factual snippets where the meaning can’t be misconstrued.” However, for more complex texts, “machine translation is unlikely to be up to scratch.”
Machine translation software cannot understand context, spot mistakes in the source text or pick up the nuances of a language. By contrast, human translators are capable of it all. The reason? Machines work with words, while humans work with language.
Why Should Companies Avoid Machine Translation?
Most businesses translate their materials into other languages to attract new clients from abroad. In today’s global marketplace, penetrating foreign markets is crucial, and investing in multilingual content becomes a must. However, content availability in multiple languages is of no use if messages are poorly expressed and language quality is bad. What brand image are you projecting if you make mistakes while addressing your audience?
An article on website translation explains that consumers tend to purchase more when information is in their language. The article writer includes the following research as supporting evidence:
- Can’t Read, Won’t Buy, by Common Sense Advisory: 72% of consumers spend most of their time online (if not all) on websites in their own language. The same percentage also acknowledged being more likely to buy a product if the information is available in their own language.
- User language preferences online, by the European Commission: 90% of Europeans always visit a website in their own language when given a choice. And 42% of them said they never buy products or services if the information is not available in their mother tongue.
- Project Underwear found that 9 out of 10 people ignore a product if it’s not available in their native language.
Should We Fear And Avoid Machines?
Absolutely not. Translators rely highly on software that makes their jobs easier, through so-called “Computer-Assisted Translation tools” (CAT tools). These tools are productivity enhancers. They differ from machine translation in that they involve a human at the centre of the process.
CAT tools include a Translation Memory (TM) that records and stores past translations by human linguists. These memories pick up similar phrases or repeated terms between different texts and help translators deliver consistent final products and save time.
Moreover, clients also enjoy the benefits of computer-aided translation because they get their translated texts back in a shorter time without compromising quality.
Conclusion: Could Machines Ever Replace Humans?
To sum up the above, machine translation is far from being a threat to the livelihoods of translators. As expressed in an article by the American Translators Association, “Despite constant improvements, researchers and practitioners recognize the concrete and measurable limitations of using machine translation.” In a nutshell, if perfect quality is the goal, the answer to this question in the above title is definitely a no.