There’s a common assumption that professional translators hate technology like machine and automatic translation. Well, you can take it from us that this isn’t the case. We use this kind of technology on a daily basis to speed up projects and create a better translation workflow.
It’s not so much a question of human vs automatic translation; it’s more about how professional translators use technology as a tool – just like people in any other industry.
Knowing when to use automatic translation
The first thing a professional translator will tell you about this topic is there’s a time and a place for automatic translation. It’s part of our job to know what this technology has to offer and when this can benefit your projects. Above all, the quality of your translation is never compromised but automation might help us get there faster.
The key benefits of automatic translation are:
- Speed: Translations are almost instant
- Scale: There’s almost no limit to how much you can translate instantly
- Editing: With the right tools, you can cut down on editing time
- Storage: Automatic translation is the easiest way to build translation memory
The downside, of course, is accuracy. The best you can generally hope for is somewhere between 60-80% accuracy with today’s automatic translation tools. This depends on the languages you’re translating and the complexity of the material. So, naturally, there are times when automatic translation isn’t reliable enough to use at all.
In many cases, translating between English and Spanish will return more accurate results with automatic translation than Japanese and French, for example. Translating a user manual with straight-forward language is easier to translate than a creative piece of marketing material.
Automatic translation for the first draft
If your project is suitable for automatic translation, then we’ll often use software to create a kind of first draft. When automation gets you 60-80% of the way there in an instant, you’re looking at a huge boost to productivity. Your translators can then work with the automated version, checking through for accuracy and correcting any mistakes.
To make this process as quick as possible, it’s important to use tools that make it easy to check through each translation and edit them individually. For a simple text document this might be straightforward but not when you’re translating a mobile app or website, for example.
For projects like this, each piece of text needs to be translated and edited separately as individual elements. Some tools allow you to import and export info in spreadsheets, which takes a lot of the work out of this process. Once your translation has been edited and checked for quality, you’re good to go – but there’s one last task automatic translation is good for.
Beyond automatic translation
Automatic translation isn’t the only tool we can use to speed up the workflow of your projects. (And by the way, we won’t use it unless you actively request it or we obtain your approval first if we think it will be right for your scenario.) We also use translation memory (TM), which can be combined with other technologies to create the fastest possible turnaround time for all of your language needs.
TM is used to build an archive of key words and phrases from your translation projects, storing them for future use. This saves your translators from repeating work you’ve already paid for, speeding up the process for each of your future projects.
There’s a lot of talk about automation replacing humans in every industry right now, but most of this is exaggeration. Like most tools of its kind, automatic translation is there to help professionals do their job more efficiently and, as translation technology improves, this will only become more valuable to human translators – as well as all our clients.