Machine Translation

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The question that every Translation Service Provider answers several times a week. “Why can’t I just use Google Translate?”, and the truth is that you can! Online machine translation tools are a great resource for quickly understanding content, learning how to say a simple phrase while traveling, or doing a trend analysis on large volumes of text. When it comes to professional content being used in a business, legal or medical setting which holds some liability or company image however, that is when it is imperative to seek professional help. 

Machine Translation (MT) has evolved greatly over the years. It started as a basic substitution program, which would replace one word in the source language with the “equivalent” word in the target language. Obviously, this had fairly bad results, as it doesn’t take into consideration changes in syntax, grammatical structure, verb conjugation let alone the issues of context, culture, and other nuanced issues while translating. 

Over the years this system has greatly improved to what is known as Neural machine translation, which is what Google Translate is now. NMT uses a neural network, aka a brain like network, which has the ability to learn grammatical structures and phrasing based on statistical analysis of translations that already exist. Over time the system learns to create better and more natural translations as more and more datasets (i.e. translations) become available to it. 

As amazing as the technology has become, and not doubt will continue to improve, it still has large flaws. For anything beyond basic phrases and sentences, any native speaker can look at a text output from google translate and know that something is off. Even if there are no glaring mistakes, or hilarious gaffes in the translations, they can often simply come across as not quite natural sounding. 

If your goal is what we refer to gist translation, then MT might be perfect for you. No point in paying to have an email translated, if you simply need to know if someone said yes or no to a request. But if your translation is going to be the face of your company in a new country, or hold the risk of physical, legal or financial injury should something be miscommunicated, then Google Translate just isn’t going to cut it. 

Translators spend decades of their lives becoming fully fluent in multiple languages, studying a myriad of topics in both languages, testing and certifying their skills with various organizations, and continuously improving their knowledge sets to perform their jobs well. While there may come a day in the future, where machine translation is flawless and beautiful; conveying everything from technical engineering datasheets, to love poems in perfectly balanced couplets, we are still a long way off. So in the meantime, reach out to your preferred translation vendor for your next multilingual project, leave the languages to us!

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