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Why machine translation still can’t replace human translation

Why machine translation still can’t replace human translation
Home » Blog » Machine translation » Why machine translation still can’t replace human translation

Translation is improving as time goes on. There’s no doubt that it has its uses on a personal level. A machine translation is fine if you want to look up the name of a herb or the word for hello. It’s also useful for kids who need to name foodstuffs or body parts for their French homework. It’s popular because it’s immediate and easily accessed.

Why people like machine translation

There’s no waiting for the translation to come back from the agency or the freelancer either. As you type the source language into Google it begins the translation process immediately. In seconds you have your target language available to use. Plus, a machine translation tool like Google has over 200 languages at your fingertips. Why would you need a human? Because is still a long way off from being good enough for the business world.

Business translation

Business text needs to be written without spelling mistakes, it should have perfect grammar and flow coherently. A machine translation just won’t produce a perfect text. The problem is that many companies are tempted to use a machine translation to save costs. Machine translations like Google are free to use. Combine it with someone in the office who speaks a ‘bit’ of your target language and you’re done, or are you?

What a machine can’t do

A machine translation tool doesn’t understand context. This means you can’t play with words or use humour. The machine just doesn’t understand. It will provide literal translations that usually aren’t appropriate. Sometimes it will miss out words and this could lead to problems, especially if you are translating an instruction manual for example.

A perfect example of a translation error causing chaos is the case of the knee operations conducted in a German hospital. While the instructions inside the packs were in German, the labelling had been left in English. Someone who spoke English was asked to re-label the outer packaging, which was done. The packet read ‘Non-Modular Cemented’ which meant cement had to be added. The person translating, however, wrote down ‘without cement’  meaning the pack did not contain any. However, the surgeons thought it meant that cement wasn’t necessary. This led to failed operations as the prosthetic knees did not adhere to the bone. They had to be repeated which cost the hospital a great deal of money and wasted time.

The benefits of a professional translation

Whether you’re hoping to attract new business from abroad or engage the customers you have already, using their language properly is important. Don’t think because your customers are B2B clients they don’t want the same things as B2C consumers. They do. They want to feel valued and they want to be sure that the company they are dealing with is reliable and professional. But, more importantly, there translations need to be accurate and professional. After all, it’s their reputation on the line if they present a translated text that isn’t perfect.

This means being able to communicate with them in their own language and understanding something about their culture. They want to receive communications that present your product or service in a way they can relate to.

There are times when documents don’t need to absolutely spot on. As long as the text has been understood, sometimes lack of excellent grammar and word structure aren’t so important and there are other times when it needs to be perfect.

Business users who are reading an e-mail, watching a video, browsing your website or checking through a contract, expect the presentation to be perfect. In business, your marketing materials and contracts won’t be taken seriously unless they are translated perfectly to look like an original document.

Post editing

There is a way round the poor translation quality of a machine translation. You can have it post edited. This is done by a human who reads through the document and edits any mistakes made by the machine translation.

It’s one of the services we offer at Brightlines Translation. We can take your text and edit it to bring up to scratch. It means you can use your preferred machine translation method with the advantage of professional editing to polish it up. There are two types of service available:

1) Light post editing

This will give you an accurate translation, although it may not have the easy flow that a human translation provides. For instance, the reader will understand the text perfectly although it may not be 100% correct grammatically and the sentence structure may not be perfect.

It will, however, make sure the content is appropriate for your target audience and that everything has been included from the source text. Light post editing is ideal for a translation that is already of a good standard and for times when grammar and structure aren’t as important as getting the meaning across.

2) Full post editing

This should be used if the machine translation is particularly poor. It should also be used if the text is to be published. The translation should flow well and be grammatically correct. The meaning should be clear and there should be nothing missing from the text supplied in the source language.

The edit should go a lot deeper than a light post edit so that afterwards the text is very similar to the one in the source language and doesn’t look as though it has been machine translated.

The benefits of a human translation

If you prefer to use human translation, there are benefits over using a machine.

Human translations not only understand content, but they also pick up the nuances of a language. They can translate idioms or use colloquialisms if appropriate. A human will pick up any errors in the source language, which a machine won’t do.

If your clients abroad are important to your business and you need your translation to be perfect in grammar, tone and context, then perhaps it would be better to use the human option.

Brightlines Translation can supply professional human translations, by humans who have the experience and the skill to meet your business needs. Plus we also offer post editing of machine translations. If you’d like to know more, please call 01225 580 770 or fill in the form here and we will be in contact.