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Don’t Fire The Translator … Yet

Why Translation Should Still be Human-aided

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Despite a myriad of translation engines and web sites, human translation is still a very important job that requires a lot of experience and knowledge to be done properly.

It’s not just the language.

No-one in their right mind should tackle e.g. legal or technical translations if they’ve never worked in any of the fields (unless the job pays really, really well and it’s worth digging through books and Googling everything :)).

Translation work is well paid (and rightly so) – and thus quite expensive for the client.

After all, you usually pay for 1-3 passes of proofreading after the translation, depending on the type of document you are delivering.

And if it’s marketing or other commercial text, the translator needs to know how to write copy, too.

I am sure that in Brussels, where everyone and their dog have a translator in their rolodex (as just about everything is translated into more than 20 of EU’s official languages), this is a pressing issue.

There is a huge demand for cost-cutting through Machine Translation and Crowdsourced Translation – it’s one of those markets where the right solution can make a lot of people rich instantly – but we are not quite there yet.

We are still in the era of machine-aided human translation.

This means that the areas where money can be made right now are:

  • Translation corpuses (example: http://evrokorpus.gov.si/)
  • Translation memory tools (example: Trados)
  • Seamless integration of dictionaries, thesauri, …
  • Various tools for translators (e.g. tools that hide HTML and other tags in web pages)

Natural language processing, machine translation and various semantic technologies are already having beneficial effects on productivity in writing, research and language learning (look at Lingro, Zemanta, Google Translate, Systran), but we are still years away from being able to deliver quality localizations without an experienced human translator.

Fun fact: this post would cost about 25-50 EUR to translate by a professional

Disclosure: I used to do freelance translation and nowadays still occasionally do business as an agent and proofreader

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  • beth |

    Yes, I agree, but I think that automated translation tools and ways to maintain the previous translations you’ve done are getting better and easier all the time. Look at Language Weaver (which invented statistical machine translation) and Across Systems (which holds more than 20% of the translation tools market in Europe and recently incorporated in the US) – they have combined their software to make it easy for customers to use both a centralized repository of all language resources and previous translations with machine translation, and I hear that the increase in productivity for localization providers who are using the combined solution is something like 300%! What’s interesting is that Across even gives its software to freelance translators for free. (See http://www.my-across.net/en/index.html for proof of this.) I think that soon translators will have the tools to do a better job faster and, while those who use the technologies will benefit financially first, eventually it will make the costs come down on translation for businesses. But the volume of work will go up and we’ll all make more money in the long run. There are lots of documents that my clients don’t translate now due to cost, but they would like to and if the costs come down, they will.

  • verbi |

    For highly inflected languages like Slovenian, CATs are all right for maintaining consistency of style and terminology, but they leave a whole lot to be desired in terms of translation. In my personal experience, none of the tools can compare to Atril’s DVX.

    As for prices coming down, I’d say this is a misconception, pushed by CAT software companies such as SDL as part of their (aggressive) marketing strategy, due to which giving away free copies of Across is the only smart way to go. Bear in mind that translation is not a commodity, it is a service, and at the end of the day, you always get what you pay for.

So, what do you think ?