Machine Translation refers to the utilization of software to translate text from one language to another. Its application is very limited. For professional text, we believe (MT) is only useful for very specific situations. There are two aspects to the translation project utilizing professional translators, the science and the art. Generally, the technical task is completed first: creating a target language document with words, phrases, and concepts that accurately reflect the words, phrases and concepts in the original. The artistic feature of translation is more time consuming than the technical aspect. Just as any good writer will revise his or her English text several times, translators and editors often need to "walk away" from a document and revisit the text again, to ensure the language is natural and reads well on its own. As good as machine translation software is, it is still very far from perfect and cannot reliably create even a good technical translation much less replicate the art of translation.
Common Questions about Machine Translation
Machine translation is best when used for unofficial and informational purposes or when material is perishable but too voluminous to be translated by humans. For example, we’ve had clients that have identified large volumes of documents with information related to an imminent terrorist attack. Since translating it with humans would take far too long, the material can be processed through machine translation to generate a rough translation. Humans translators then review the translation to determine which documents are relevant and require full translation.
Machine translation is also useful for technical materials that use very consistent terminology and writing styles. The machine translation tool can be “trained” to recognize the consistencies in the original source text and produces translations that are can reach 85% accuracy. Under other circumstances, accuracy rates of 70% in machine translation are considered great. For most documents, machine translation will produce accuracy rates of 30% - 60%.
We do not recommend machine translation for materials that contain nuanced or sensitive information, such as legal agreements, marketing material, business correspondence, or hand-written text. Human translators are much better at determining appropriate translations for the colloquialisms and subtleties often found in these documents.
There are several different machine translation software packages available, each having their strengths and weaknesses. For instance, some are better at translating into foreign languages, others are better going into English. Some handle Chinese, Japanese, and Korean better, while others are better at Spanish, German, and French. We can evaluate the specific documents to be translated and then make a good recommendation.
Ultimately, any discussion about the advantages and disadvantages of machine translation comes down to speed vs. accuracy. The major advantage of machine translation is that it can output much larger volumes of translation than any team of translators. However, machine translation rarely reaches accuracy levels above 70%, while a human translation almost always produces accuracy above 95%.