What about machine translation?

Jul 12, 2013 | Translation

NanoThere are certain programmes freely available that can give you an instant translation straight to your phone or computer. Very handy. But how do they work and can you trust them?

Well, there is no doubt that they can be very useful – if you’re looking for a single word, a common phrase or just the gist of meaning, for example. I myself used a well known web-based translation service recently to name my kitten… He was a little bit of a weed and I wanted an Italian name so in went runt and out came Nano – voila! A quick and dirty solution for my small (and very cute) request. (And the reason for the strange choice of piccie – although who needs an excuse to have a Friday cute kitten pic?!)

But it is important to know how these programmes work. They operate via a library of documents and patterns. When a translation is generated, the program looks for the pattern of words 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”.

So far so good. But, unsurprisingly, this process is prone to enormous 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. All nuance and subtletly is lost and sometimes much more.

So, if the temptation to use a machine translation is just too great, it is extremely important to get it edited by a human who will ensure it is accurate, appropriate and sensible! In translation, particularly for your business, there is no substitute for a human, native speaker.

image: Nano