Three reasons why machine translators won’t be putting human translators out of work just yet
As we all know, technology is developing faster and faster and there is fear that it will ultimately put us all out of work. With the improvement of technology comes the improvement of machine translation – but will this mean no future for human translators?
Online translations are appearing more often than before with possibilities to translate whole web pages or individual Facebook comments and the accuracy of machine translators is certainly better than it has been in the past. However, while this may be the case, there are a number of reasons why the future is still looking pretty good for human translators, and I am going to take a closer look at three of these.
Translating a text can be an extremely difficult task – there are a million things which need to be considered when undergoing a translation. For example, how literal should the translation be? Should the translator prioritise staying true to the author or put considerations for the target audience higher? Does context need to be added if a reference is culture specific? Should a translation stay more true to the words used or to the overall meaning conveyed? Consider more creative texts where specific words are chosen for the image they conjure up or where alliteration is used for a particular effect. When translating such texts, it is necessary to consider whether the word, the imagery or the effect is the most important factor. These kind of decisions require the thought and understanding of a human, which machine translators are a long way off being able to do.
Another factor to bear in mind is that language is constantly evolving. Not only are new words forever being created but meanings of words also change. For example the word “wicked” now not only means “evil” but has a second colloquial meaning of “great”. The Oxford English Dictionary is updated four times a year, every March, June, September, and December. In September 2017 alone more than 1,000 new words, senses, and subentries were added to the Oxford English Dictionary. We would have to be constantly updating machine translators across all languages in order for online translations to keep up with the ever-changing amendments and additions to language.
Finally, there are over 7000 languages in the world – Google Translate covers 103 of these. While Google claims that the company’s translation service covers 99% of the online population there is still 1% of languages not covered which we require human translators for. Furthermore, three million volunteers also correct translations and suggest new words, showing that machine translation relies on human translators and proofreaders. Technology is a long way off covering every language and dialect that exists and doing this without any human assistance.
All this is not to say that machine translations don’t have their benefits. For gaining a basic understanding of what a foreign website is saying, for example, machine translations can sometimes suffice. However, where an accurate translation is required human translators are the best option. Admittedly it may happen sooner that machine translators are able to replace human translators for more technical texts such as legal documents and instruction manuals, whereas when it comes to more creative translation, machine translators have a much longer way to go.
Ultimately the task of updating machine translators and covering every language and dialect is so huge and requires human translators and proofreaders, not to mention the huge challenge and thought required to undergo translation. We will certain be needing human translators for a while longer!
Written by Rachel Priseman – Recruitment Consultant