Machine Translation

Why machine translation cannot replace human translation

Translation is an essential tool for communication between businesses, between companies and their customers, between organizations, and between countries. The most common way to get a translation done is to go through a translation agency or a freelance translator. But for the past few years, we have seen the emergence of a new type of translators: machine translators.

What are the differences between human translation and machine translation? What type of project can you use them for? How reliable are they?

Translating is converting the language of a source text into the language of the target text. It is a complex process in which translators have to take a lot of things into consideration. For example, you can judge a translation quality on how natural and fluent it sounds in the target language. If the translation is very well done, the reader may not even suspect that the source text was written in another language and was translated. The most important thing is to keep the original meaning. To get a good result, translators must take many elements into account: the tone of the text, cultural or contextual references, slang, specific expressions, familiar language and such.

Machine translation may appear as a good way to save money and time, but be careful. These kinds of translators first analyze the structure of each term or phrase within the source text. They then break this structure down into elements that can be easily translated and recompose a term of the same structure in the target language. This method may seem correct, but the quality of the translation is much lower than a human translation, because the structure of each language is different and it is something that most machine translators don’t take into account.

In some cases, some machine translators may even basically provide a literal, word-for-word translation, which leads to a terrible result. Indeed, the translation, even though it may be comprehensible, will not sound natural at all, may comprise a certain number of grammatical mistakes, will not be well-structured and may not keep the original meaning. Moreover, some words can have various possible meanings in the target language depending on the context. This is all why a human analysis is necessary. A perfect understanding of the source text is essential, which machine translators don’t have because they don’t have a global vision of it.

Even in the FAQ of the Google Translate tool states:

“Even today’s most efficient software cannot master a language as well as a native speaker and have by no means the skill of a professional translator.”

Human translators are most often native speakers of the target language. That’s why, unlike machine translators, they are perfectly familiar with all of its specificities, subtleties, expressions, slang, grammar etc., which allows them to keep the meaning and the tone of the original text and provide the best and most accurate and appropriate translation. Also, most human translators have translation degrees, and some of them may focus on a specific area of expertise, in which they may have a professional background. Their knowledge in the field of the project facilitates the translation, while a machine translator may not be able to give an accurate translation of specific technical terms. Machines, if they can’t provide equivalent terms in the target language, might sometimes leave them as they are in the source text.

In a nutshell, machine translation can be used for small, non-crucial projects, for which you don’t necessarily need a perfect translation, but only a general understanding of it—for internal purposes, for example. But, for important projects, which will be shown to a global audience, human translation is essential and much more reliable to ensure a high-quality job, and to make sure the message you want to deliver can be perfectly understood by your audience.

Contact us today for a free translation estimate. We guarantee that every translation is “handcrafted” by a seasoned translator!