At first machine translation can seem like a miraculous tool. Simply copy and paste the source text into the box and click translate, instantly the translation appears in the target box. This form of translation is great for a brief overview of the text, but how accurate is the translated text.
Usually there are inconsistencies.
Origins of machine translation
The concept of machine translation has been around for many years, in fact ever since the creation of programmable, general purpose computers during WWII.
It was in the 50’s and 60’s during the cold war when the US army collected a large number of Russian documents that the concept of machine translation really took off. Throughout this period the development of machine translation was funded by the government and various universities. By the late 60’s developers were losing interest as it became clear the technology of the day was not up to the challenge.
Funding for the development of machine translation eventually dried up, that is until the 1970’s when advances in computer technology made the idea of a computer creatively thinking a much bigger possibility.
Over the last 30 years computer technology has greatly advanced, artificial intelligence is now common place in homes across the western world and it’s spreading, getting more and more human with each development. As technology has advanced so has machine translation technology improving its memories and adding more and more language options. Despite these advances there are still issues, as yet computers are unable to comprehend context or keep up with the fast pace at which our languages change with hundreds, maybe thousands of new words added each year.
Accuracy of machine translation
A machine cannot put words and sentences into context, it simply replaces the words with what it considers to be the direct alternative in the language required.
The translations provided by online tools and computer packages are usually understandable but it is not normally of publishable quality. If you simply require an understanding of a piece of text, for example an email, then a machine translation tool such as Google Translate will do. If however you require a document to be accurate, for example if the text is going to print, then a human translator will provide a much more accurate translation. If the document is then proofread by a second human translator the overall accuracy of the document is twofold. Never publish text translated through a machine translation tool.
Machine translation is ideal if you want to get the gist of an email or short piece of text but nothing compares to a competent human translator. A human translator will take in the context and intended meaning of your text. They will take care when translating the words and they will focus on the style of the document.
No matter how far machine translation goes it will never compare to a real human translator. There are certain styles of translation such as medical, technical and legal, which translation tools cannot handle properly.
The speed and cost of machine translation is obviously better than human translation but if you want to create market ready translations accuracy is very important, accuracy that you will only get if you use a human translator.
Even developers of machine translation recognize its limitations; in fact Google admits that their translation tool is far from accurate. They state that the tool should provide the user with a general idea of their text, providing day to day translated information, making world wide business communication easier.
–From K International plc.
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