Five Reasons Why Machine Translation Won’t Replace Human Translation

November 29, 2012 // // Computer language translation nowadays is getting better, but if you need professional translation services, you’ll still need a human who understands culture, context and nuance. Computer translation programs simply cannot do that. According to one software evaluator, one advanced translation program, TransTac “achieved about 80 percent accuracy: enough to be interesting, but not enough to be useful.”

The central problem, however, is a stunningly simple one: How can the computer evaluate whether the translation it produces is any good? Even human evaluators might tend to disagree on whether or not a particular translation should be ranked higher than another. The answer is that computer translation programs cannot make the complex judgments that experienced human translators can.

The problem with machine translation can be further broken down:

1. No computer language translation can be programmed to understand the culture of the target language. Take the Spanish verb coger, for example. In Spain, this verb means to get or to take. In many places in South America, it is a vulgar term denoting sexual intercourse.

2. Computer programs cannot keep up with slang, and sometimes proper names. What computers do best are the word-for-word translations. Try running the sentence, “The con was sentenced to life in the state pen” through a translation program, and you get, “La estafa fue condenada a la vida en la pluma de estado.” Pretty close, but no cigar. The two critical words in the English sentence are “con” (meaning a prison inmate) and pen (meaning a prison). What came out in the word-for-word translation were the Spanish words for “scam” and “ink pen.”

3. Only humans can pick up language nuance that machines cannot detect. Professional translation services often require suitable equivalents to get the best translations. In the above example, a human translator would have found that “estafador” was an exact meaning for the English slang term “con,” and either “prisíon” or “penetenciaría” would do for “pen.”

4. Computer translations do a poor job when it comes to relating words to their context. Consider the English word, “home,” for example. We go home, but sometimes we home in on a solution. Ask for a Spanish translation for “home” and you get la casa or el hogar. Clearly, the resulting computer translation would require human intervention to prevent a key disruption to the rest of the text.

5. Those who actually write computer translation programs do so with the goal of supplementing human translators, not replacing them, because no machine translation could be entirely satisfactory “untouched by human hands.”

About Keylingo

Keylingo professional translation services bring the technical and human elements together. Your translation project is not only “touched by human hands,” it is also managed by your dedicated account executive and a team of professional linguists. Contact us and see how our full range of translation services can extend the reach of your enterprise well beyond its current limits.



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