Machine Translation Can Never Replace Human Translation

streets of London

We at iTi apologize. We’re not against technology and its amazing advances. We think there’s great value in machine translation. But if you try to convince us that machines will someday totally replace human translation, we’re ready to argue with you.

First, a definition. Machine translation is the translation of words and documents by computers.  There are websites out there that can translate words from one language to another in real time.  That’s wonderful and a marvel.

Communication Is More Than Words

However, real communication isn’t just words. Real communication, real translation requires that the speaker’s original thoughts and ideas be presented so that the listener can understand not just the words but also the context, ideas, emotions and meaning behind those words. Christine Pranti on the Language Translation’s World View blog presents a great argument in support of this point of view.

Like Christine says, “Try typing paragraphs of English to be translated into German, French or Spanish, into a machine translator.  The translation engine will spit the words back out in the language you requested, but alas, if they were to be received and read by a native speaker, would he or she comprehend the depth, meaning and intent of the original English words?  Doubtful.”

Human Translators Add Thought And Context

Computers analyze text word for word. There’s no thought or consideration for the situation or the audience or the words that have been used earlier in the document or conversation.

Plus, many words have multiple definitions.  How can a computer know which definition you intended?  In our opinion, a computer can’t do that today and no computer will be able to do so tomorrow.

Machine Translation Gone Wrong

From Transpanish Blog, here’s an example of machine translation gone wrong. Yes, you get the general idea of what the text is saying but it’s hard to read, takes longer and isn’t pleasant:

“In the province of Buenos Aires they exist around 150 helmets of stay with lodging capacity. Of modest to luxurious, all offer varied alternative for all the tastes and budgets. It is possible to be enjoyed an only day of field or one more estadía prolonged.

Make no mistake. Machine translation is useful. The speed and convenience are great. But the subtle meaning and the accuracy can’t compare to that of a professional human translator. For a general idea of what’s being said, machine translation works well. When clarity and precision are important, human translation works much better.


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