Translation and technology. Man v machine – or man and machine in harmony?

  • Traducción automática

The printing press. Personal computers. The world wide web. Three major advances in technology, separated by more than 500 years – and each of them a massive leap forward for the business of translation services.

The invention of the printing press made the mass creation and consumption of books possible for the first time. Before long, books were crossing international borders, and what we understand as translation services came to prominence for the first time.

Fast forward

Fast forward some 500 years or so, and the advent of the personal computer brought businesses the ability to create documents in quantity and at a speed previously unheard of. With this explosion of information came the need for more translators as businesses became more truly international. More documents; more developing markets; more languages…

The power of the internet

The world wide web took this pc-driven facility for mass communication to a whole new level. Suddenly, companies could harness the power of the internet to reach new markets around the globe. They could do it quickly, and they could do it no matter what their size.

Translators moved with the times. The best of them harnessed this new technology to cope with the explosion in demand for their skills. Now, they were increasingly tasked with creating multi-lingual versions of company websites – and multi-lingual versions of all the printed communications and other collateral that went with this new globalised marketing push…

Rise of the machines…

With the advent of PCs and the web, the translation business has seen the development of two distinct types of translation technology; machine translation (MT) which relies solely on computer software, and computer-assisted translation (CAT) which is used as an aid for human translators.

Machine translation exists in many forms. At the most basic level, there’s Google Translate. It’s simple; it’s free. It will translate a word or two. It might help you get the gist of a simple sentence. But would you rely on it to translate a professional document? One upon which your company reputation depends?

At the other end of the MT scale are sophisticated programs designed to churn out masses of information at the push of a button. They use complex algorithms and are claimed to ‘learn’ the more they are used…

CAT, on the other hand, seeks not to replace the human translator; rather it works as a tool to help the translator work faster, more efficiently and more cost-effectively. Swathes of repetitive and standard text are processed quickly, leaving the translator free to refine the message; to apply idiom and nuance; in short, to make text ‘human’.

…but do machines have souls?

Can machines – no matter how smart – understand colloquialisms? Can they comprehend context and the multitude of subtleties that we humans use in our everyday business language? No they can’t, no matter how well they ‘learn’.

Man and machine in harmony

At McFelder Translations, much of what we do involves working with marketing and creative materials. We don’t currently use MT, simply because it can’t handle colloquialisms and other important expressions. If MT ever develops this ability, we might introduce it – but only if it benefits our clients directly.

Instead, we blend the very best of CAT technology with the irreplaceable expertise of human translators. Our people are not just great linguists: they are also specialists in particular business sectors, so when they work on your documents you can be sure they ‘get’ what you do.

The result? Man and machine working in translation harmony to help your business succeed right across this great global village. To find out more, get in touch today.