Machine Translation

Jun 22, 2011 | First Edition Translations, Translation

Do you know how machine translation works?

In our ever shrinking world, the demand for translation services is growing all the time, particularly for businesses keen to take advantage of the global market place. It is inevitable, then, that quick and efficient, not to mention cheap, methods are being sought. But do they work?

In some cases, yes. If you want a single word or common phrase, or to get the gist of meaning, Google Translate (other programmes are available…) can provide a quick solution. But it is important to know how such programmes work. When Google Translate generates a translation, it looks for patterns in documents that have already been translated by human translators. It then makes an “intelligent guess” as to what an appropriate translation should be. This process is called “statistical machine translation”.

This process is, unsurprisingly, prone to error and there is no shortage of examples of often hilarious mistranslations – just put a foreign language news story into a machine translation and see what comes out. If using a machine translation, it is important to get it edited by a human but, if you need your translation to be accurate and appropriate in tone as well as meaning, there is no substitute for a human, native speaker.