As the field of translation evolved, machine translation looks likely to become more and more prevalent. This article is going to explore this issue: machine translation: a help or hinderance? Machine translation, is, undoubtedly, a very useful tool. The issue comes in how much we use it, and when. Irene Chamali, in her Masters dissertation, looked into the reaction of translators to machine translation.

From a wide group of ages, genders and nationalities, she found the majority of translators found machine translation to be a useful tool. In fact, the more experienced a translator was, the more likely they were to use it. Interestingly, none of the translators saw it as a threat to their job. This is because, although useful, a machine cannot match the cultural and contextual understanding that a human can. If you’d like to read more of her research, we recommend this About Translation article which summarises her work.

When did machine translation come about?

The first predecessors for the machine translation come from the 1950’s, based on information theory and the successes of the WWII code breaking machines. However, they were held back by a lack of technology, and for a while the belief was that a machine translator could never be efficient. There was a continued effort in the late 20th Century, and in the 2000s there has been significant improvement to the point that we are at today.

The disadvantages

To evaluate the question of “machine translation: a help or hinderance?” we should look at its strengths, as well as its flaws. Some of its negatives are as follows:

  • Self-awareness. The biggest difference in a human translator and a machine translator is self-awareness, and the ability to view something in more than one way. Although machine translators are coded very cleverly to detect what it is that they’re translating, issues will always occur. For example, knowing the difference in some proper nouns vs. nouns, or knowing how to translate unique idiomatic phrases will always require a human expert, with knowledge of both languages and cultures.
  • For shorter documents, it may be quicker to translate it yourself, rather than having to machine translate then edit.
  • Context! Machine translation cannot take context into account. What might be a perfectly accurate translation may well not be a good translation. For example, the process and technique in translating something for a literary text, like a novel or poem, and a non-fiction text, like an instruction manual, is very different! In fields such as advertising, the implications and references of language is often important to the product. As a result, his can very easily get lost in machine translation!

The advantages

Machine translation also comes with some advantages.

  • Speed! This is the main plus. Machine translation is rapid. For very long documents, it can be a great time saver, and often using machine translation then editing is far quicker than having to go through the whole document.
  • Consistency. You know with a machine translation you will get very consistent results. On certain types of documents, this could be perfect.
  • Cut down on costs. Machine translating and then editing, or simply machine translating can be far cheaper than getting it all done manually. However, this comes with the risk of having to go back and edit out mistakes, which can be a costly process.

Overall, despite being a useful tool, we cannot rely on machine translation. Mistakes will always be made, and for the best results a human translator will always be needed. Machine translation, is, however, a useful tool that can and should feature in the toolkit of every good translator.

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We hope that you found this article, “Machine translation: a help or hinderance?” interesting. For any assistance in translating, visit us at iTrad Traducciones. Our team of experienced experts come with years of knowledge in a vast array of fields, and guarantee accuracy and quality. If you want to find out more, get in touch at!  

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