Machine translation is a misunderstood tool in so many ways. On one side, you’ve got tech companies marketing their translation tools as if they can perfectly convert text and speech into other languages. This is despite the fact that their tools fail to deliver accurate translations for anything but the most basic scenarios – and, even then, they can struggle.
On the other side, we have language experts who feel forced to defend the need for their services in the age of automation and artificial intelligence.
Somewhere in the middle, machine translation is a useful tool for language pros who can use it to speed up their workflow and deliver accurate translations faster, which results in shorter turnaround times and more cost-effective projects.
Machine translation is not a standalone solution
The most important thing to understand about machine translation is that it’s not a standalone solution for delivering content in another language. While technologies like machine learning have made strides in recent years, the reality is algorithms simply can’t match human translators in terms of accuracy.
It’s not even close, despite some claims made by some tech giants, based on highly selective testing environments.
Despite its serious limitations, machine translation is a genuinely useful tool – as long as its strengths and weaknesses are understood by the people using it. For language pros, the most basic use of machine translation is to instantly produce a rough first draft of content.
Now, this approach is more effective for content that uses relatively simple, non-creative language, because algorithms have an easier time dealing with this. For more complex pieces of content, machine translation will return more errors, but it can still save the pros time.
Instead of translating every word and sentence manually, translators can take a more editorial approach and correct the mistakes made by machine translation. In some cases, this can save a great deal of time; in others, not so much, and language pros need to understand which kind of content machine translation can help them with.
More advanced uses of machine translation
We’ve already covered the most common and basic use of machine translation, but there are more advanced use cases for the technology, depending on the nature of translation projects. Essentially, it all comes down to the same strength of machine translation: instantly delivering translated content.
The weakness is always the quality of these translations and it’s up to the pros to make up the difference.
Here are some more advanced uses cases for machine translation:
- Live translation: Live translation is a real challenge, but machine translation can speed up the process, especially where the language is fairly basic or formulaic (e.g. translating live commentary on sports betting sites).
- Translation memory: A technology that saves translated sentences and phrases, which are automatically inserted where the same sentences and phrases are repeated in future content – not only saving time, but also improving consistency and accuracy.
- Terminology management: Another form of machine translation that creates a database of translation for specific terms to ensure they’re always translated correctly. This is especially important for words that can have multiple meanings or when you’re dealing with industry terminology that has specific meanings/nuances (e.g. “web” meaning the internet vs a spider’s structure).
- Translation management system: A software platform that makes it easier to manage ongoing translation projects. This benefits professional translators by helping them to organise and complete work, but it also helps the client by giving them access to completed documents and an ongoing overview of progress.
None of these translation technologies are going to solve your language needs by themselves, but combined, they empower professional translators to achieve 100% accuracy and consistency faster – and this means cheaper translations for everyone.
Companies trying to position machine translation as something that’s going to deliver accurate translation are selling a lie. Sadly, this is where much of the misinformation about translation technology emerges from, but there are plenty of legitimate use cases for translation tech.
If you want to find out more about how machine translation can/can’t benefit your business, feel free to reach out to us on social media or give us a call on 44 (0)20 7324 0950.