Can Machine Translation Software Replace Human Translators?

Posted by

There has been some increase in the use of machine translations in specific sectors. This is a result of the demand for very large quantities of text to be translated quickly at a reduced cost (cheap translation services)  and the demand for small unimportant extracts of text to be translated for free. You may have encountered the latter, most people would have used Google translate at some point, if only just for fun. If you are bilingual, you may notice that the quality of free online translation obtained from machine translation software is laughably low. That said, as you may have guessed, not all machine translation software is as unsophisticated as google translate. If they were, no one would be paying for them, despite their speed. So you may be wondering, how good can machine translations get and more importantly, can they currently replace human translators? The short answer is a resounding no, even when the best machine translation software is employed,  human translators must still be used to edit the translated text afterwards, otherwise, it is unlikely to be coherent. This process is known as “post-editing”. We will look through some of the main sectors of the translation industry and evaluate the suitability of using machine translations in them.

machine translation
machine translations may be quick and convenient, but are they suitable for formal use?

Can Machine Translations be Certified?

Certified Translations are the type of translations you are most likely to encounter as a private individual. They include things like

  • Marriage Certificates
  • Birth Certificates
  • Passports or National ID Cards
  • Higher Education Diplomas
  • Divorce Certificates
  • Immigration Documents
  • Land Documents
  • Medical or Employment Certificates or any other type of official document.

All public bodies in the UK and most other institutions would need you to provide certified translations of such documents if the ones you have are in a foreign language. Machine translation would never be suitable for translating such documents. As in such circumstances, accuracy and precision are key concerns, meaning it would never be sufficient to have the translation edited into coherence after the fact as some information may be lost or altered. Furthermore, under UK statute, for a translation to be classed as “certified” it would need to be declared as true and accurate by a translator, or a Translation Agency would have to declare that the translation was done by a professional translator; machine translation simply isn’t an option. Regardless, there would be little point in obtaining a machine translation, as any reputable translation company would be able to provide a translation next or even same day for a reasonable price.

Can Machine Translation Software be used for Technical Documents?

Technical translation is the translation of specialist documents particular to a specific professional field, such as construction medicine or law. These documents can at times be quite lengthy and there often a demand to have a large volume of them translated in a short time frame. Nonetheless, it may not be advisable to use machine translation in technical fields. This is because technical translations require knowledge of subject-specific jargon as well as familiarity with the context-specific interpretation of terms. Take for example the term “solution”, this would have very different meanings in scientific and day to day contexts, algorithms may not necessarily be capable of discerning the correct interpretation in specialist contexts. Given that, as with certified translations, the precision and accuracy of the translation are essential, due to the importance of the content being translated, translators often specialise in such fields after obtaining their language degree. It is not uncommon for translators to obtain masters or PhDs before attempting such translations

medical document
It is imperative all words in medical documents are translated accurately as they can have significant health and safety consequences, thus machine translation is not recommended.

Can Machine Translation Software be used to Localise Products

Clearly, machine Translations is probably not the most suitable tool for situations where precision and accuracy are key concerns. However, even in other contexts where accuracy might not be the largest concern, using machine translations may still not be advisable, one such context is localisation. When operating in the fields such as marketing or entertainment, it may be worth having your product not only translated, but localised. This can be a very complex process, as the languages used by the public are “natural languages”. Natural languages are developed idiosyncratically over time, as opposed to created the way programming codes are. This leads to cultural differences seeping into the language, thus translators need to be “culturally aware” when they localise products. Being culturally aware means considering not only the semantic differences between languages but the cultural differences too, these include; the use of idioms, the cultural connotations attached specific words or phrases; differences in how humour and other emotive concepts may be expressed between cultures. As of right now, no software exists that can translate these intricacies to the same standard as human translators.

English wordplay
Wordplay is particularly difficult to translate well, as words won’t share similarities in pronunciation and meaning in all languages.

Summary- Where Machine Translations might be Suitable

For these reasons, I do not feel machine translations are in a position to replace human translators as of right now. The progress that has been made in the field is significant, as can be seen from the difference in quality between paid machine translations and free ones. Notably, the ISO has very recently published an international standard for “post-editing” which signifies the growth in the industry. Nonetheless, in the article, it mentions that as of right now there is no software that can match the competence of human translators. Thus, it is clear users of machine translation software must be willing to accepting the loss of quality, accuracy and compatibility. However, in situations when turn over time is non-negotiable and there is only a need for coherence, as opposed to accuracy, it may be worth looking into.

Where Can I Find Cheap Certified Translations in the UK?

To conclude, nothing can replace certified human translation services. If you are in search of cheap certified translation services in the UK then simply click on get a free translation quote and upload your documents or provide us with the link to your documents, websites, texts or audio/video files and we will provide you with a quote within minutes.