Professional Translation Using Only Machine Translation? Still Some Years Away

Zbyněk Zelenka

Zbyněk Zelenka

23. 12. 2014

Every copywriter knows all too well how difficult it is to just create a marketing text (e.g. whole website or even a PR article) in a source language, let alone translate/localize it into the target language later on.

Machine translation

When can machine translation be used? What are the pros and cons?

And to have such text translated using only machine translation (or an online translator) while keeping its quality? Currently, that’s wishfull thinking.

However, there are situations when you don’t mind a lower quality in exchange for speed and zero (or very low) costs. That’s where machine translation (also called automated translation) comes in.

Here are a couple examples of such situations:

1) You don’t speak the source language at all, but you need to figure out its content immediately (and ideally for free) and just for yourselves.

The translation may contain major nonsensical expressions or phrases, to say nothing of its stylistics. Nevertheless, you can learn the content of the text quickly and for free, even if it is full of mistakes and often quite weird expressions. I’m sure you’ve tried Google’s online translator Another advantage of this is that it offers translations of various exotic languages or, for example, of hieroglyphs.

2) You have some knowledge of the source language, but it’s not sufficient for you to read and understand the content of the text yet.

You don’t want to lose time by ordering (and paying for) a translation job or look up unknown words yourselves, as you have other, more important work to do. The essential difference is that you can correct the mistakes made by the machine translation quicker and easier than if you translated the text yourselves.

3) There is a very extensive text (thousands of pages) for which it wouldn’t be economical to order a quality translation done by human translators.

In this case, you can do the proofreading (significantly more difficult than proofreading a text translated by a human translator) and thus remove at least the biggest mistakes. This proofreading is called post editing or post-editing. If you put the text into some form that is easy to understand (without modifying its style), this process is called light post-editing. If you also change its style, then it’s called full post-editing.

4) It is unlikely that someone will read the whole extensive translation.

In such cases, it’s possible to use machine/automated translations to translate everything and to have only selected parts of the text (the most frequently read) proofread by a human proofreader, e.g. large companies like Microsoft use this method in some situations. It’s also possible to gradually improve the quality of the machine translation. It’s always necessary to consider which is less demanding: performing a usual translation from the source text or carrying out full post-editing, i.e. correcting the machine translation. This depends on both the quality of the translation tool and the language combination (Czech translations are less suitable for machine translation than English), and also on the type of text (technical/marketing) and the availability of a translation memory.


Disadvantages of machine translation tools.

Given the current level and capabilities of machine translation tools, machine translations serve only for limited purposes. If you want to use them, for example, on a marketing text, you could end up embarrassing yourselves.

In order to create a translation in a publishable quality, it is (always) necessary to use the services of professionals – human translators and/or human proofreaders. In case of some technical translations, however, a machine translation may increase productivity when using CAT tools.

Unlike machine translations, translations done by human translators are not free and cannot be done in five minutes, but in exchange contain no blatantly nonsensical expressions or phrases. And if a translator works in a team with other professionals for a translation agency (proofreaders, graphical artists, project managers, and programmers), the produced translation will be on an even higher level. Today, translators and translation agencies use special translation tools ( CAT and various add-ons ); this, however, is a totally different thing, as such software is absolutely different to the one used by machine translation tools. In this case, the aim is to achieve consistent terminology, a lower price, and to perform special quality checks, all in a tighter deadline.


Other sources of information on machine translation tools


Currently, our company doesn’t use machine translation tools. In our opinion, the process of translation can be accelerated mainly by using comprehensive translation memories. However, machines are quite likely to beat human translators in this battle one day. Twenty years ago, experts expected this to happen in around twenty years, but it hasn’t happened yet. Nevertheless, we need to be responsible and get ready for this situation, as sooner or later the era of machine translations is bound to come.

And most translators may gradually become proofreaders

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