Just about everyone has run into “MT” or “Machine Translation” by now. If you’ve ever had a text translated by, for example, Google Translate, then you’ve used machine translation before. The main benefits are clear: A low (or even zero) translation cost as well as swift turnaround (your text is translated almost immediately).
However, these advantages come at the price of some disadvantages. For example, the need to “train” the MT engine against a large quantity of text so that its translations can be high-quality.
The selection of paid MT tools is a rich one today, and some are of very high quality – but there are also tools with a suspicious background, and it can be hard for a layman to tell which are trustworthy and high-quality. That’s why we recommend at least consulting with an expert or going straight for a professional translation agency.
Every honest agency will only use MT tools that have verified high output quality and the ability to work hand-in-hand with human translators’ CAT tools. This gives you access to practically unlimited support for a variety of formats, custom dictionaries, and professional specializations. These agencies also have contractually guaranteed confidentiality, so you don’t need to worry that someone will see your texts without your permission.
For an MT tool to be able to use the right specialised terminology, it is essential to “feed” that terminology into it. Professional translation agencies use their own MT engines that do not share translated texts with third parties and are also specialized to a specific field.
Precisely this need to “teach” these machine translators with enough text can be viewed as a disadvantage of MT. This step is essential, because otherwise the output will be low-quality. This is a clearly demanding task: For the “general training” of an unspecialised MT tool, we’re talking about tens of millions of translated sentences, and to specialise one for a field after that, it takes additional hundreds of thousands.
Free tools, on the other hand, are not focused on any specific field and are only suitable for general texts (e.g., emails – but even here remember that you may be sharing sensitive data with a third party).
Example of working with machine translation in Trados Studio
Back to professional MT tools. The way the “learning” process works is that the universal (so far) translator is provided with a large number of already translated texts from a specific field (e.g. from machine engineering), against which it is “trained.” Or more precisely, the universal translator becomes one specialized for a specific field. This makes its translations much more stylistically and terminologically precise than they would be without this “training.”
There’s an analogy here with human translators: once a translator has finished translation studies, they know how to translate – but only general texts. Only after years of practice and/or further education can they orient themselves well enough in the matters of a given field (e.g., construction, economics, law, finance, etc.).
With MT, it is also important what kind of text you want to translate and how it will be used. Literary and marketing texts and other stylistically demanding texts are inappropriate for machine translation. This is because MT uses quite a dry linguistic style.
Machine translation is thus a good choice for stylistically undemanding texts such as translations of technical manuals, user guides, technical specifications and standards, etc.
So we’ve found a text that is suitable for machine translation. And also an MT tool based on the latest technologies – and we’ve even “trained” it for our specific field. And what comes next? Do we just pop in a file, press a key, and everything’s done?
No, unfortunately. Because machine translation itself is just the first step.
The next step – and it’s a critical one – is editing of the MT tool’s output. It may seem at first that the output from MT is high-quality enough that you don’t need to touch the text from there. But that’s wrong. Raw MT output sometimes contains very serious errors – these can include changed meanings, omitted words, and more. And furthermore, in some fields, errors like these are completely inadmissible (especially in cases where a translation error can cause injuries or loss of life).
With a “traditional” translation, a text is typically translated by one translator and then revised by another. That is also how it should work for an MT translation: it is sent to a “human MT post-editor” (= the MT output will be “post-edited”), and then also reviewed by a second translator.
Traditional translation differs from MT post-editing in several key respects, and so it is essential to ensure good training for the “post-editor” and compliance with recommended rules. And indeed that’s why we organize periodic training sessions for our translators.
If a customer decides to use MT, we offer two translation levels where MT can be used, which can be described like this:
Naturally even here you can ask the question: Isn’t just the RAW MT output without further editing by “human” translators enough? Unfortunately, it isn’t – even the best MT tool will occasionally make fundamental mistakes that can have serious impacts on the text and on its readers.
That’s why you should be very cautious toward the offerings of agencies that offer “Light MT post-editing.” This is only a very quick check of the MT output, during which the raw MT output – i.e., the translation – is not checked against the original text, and thus these truly fundamental errors can remain.
It can be expected that translation services will gradually self-specialize into three areas.
However, if you really have no choice, at least limit your use of raw MT output to unimportant texts and/or internal informational materials only. For raw MT output, it is in short impossible to guarantee a text’s quality, and it can end up being misunderstood, which in many situations can have fatal consequences.
If you order the services of a professional translation agency that uses MT for the types of jobs where it works well, you’ll enjoy two benefits compared to a “traditional” translation:
And that pays off. :-)
If you’re interested in more information on machine translations, let us know. We’ll be happy to discuss a customized solution for your project.