As we are all aware the translation industry is awash with translation tools such Spell checkers, translation memories and automated glossaries. But is the feasibility of machine translation a reality in this day and age? By explaining the doubts and limitations of machine translation I hope to clarify to clarify some of the preconceived notions that the general public may have about the field and aid them in deciding on Machine translation or a translation services company.
The notion of computer translation is not new. In fact shortly after World War II the American Government had already began investing considerable resources in the field without the slightest doubt that the concept was not a reality.
Some common terms in this field indicate the some of the difficulties that those pioneers of machine translation were to encounter, for example the difference between machine translation (MT) which is the translation of text by a machine and Computer Aided translation (CAT) translation services which is the translation of texts by a translator with the aid of translation tools. Under Machine translation there are three types of system namely Batch, Interactive, and Interlingual Approaches. A Batch method has coded rules to “decide” on the best translation. There is no need for a translator.
With an Interactive system the translator is present and decides on the translation options provided by the translation system. With an Interlingual approach the source translation is translated to an intermediate language that is used to translate back and forth between the source and target languages.
CAT and MT software these days use either the Batch or interlingual approach.
With MT translation most texts tend to have a 70% accuracy e.g Google translate. Most experts now concede that 100% accuracy is not possible. Three terms that crop up are Fully Automatic High Quality Translation which is in my view is impossible to achieve, Fully Automatic Low Quality Translation and Partly Automatic Medium Quality Translation. The percentage accuracy claims of Machine translation is open to debate as there is no universal standard to measure this and accuracy claims tend to be very subjective.
When to use Machine Translation or Translation Services companies
There are five important criteria when choosing whether to use machine translation or translation Service companies
1. Subject matter. Here the computer can have an immense advantage especially in regard to technical texts. In the case of a field like Life sciences where the vocabulary is very specific and comprehensive, the Machine Translation system can have a terminology Database built up over years which is impossible for a Translation Service company to compete with. Of course the quality depends on the amount of work and quality of the work put into the Machine translation’s dictionary.
2. Speed. Speed is an area where the computer reigns supreme considering that the average translator translates at a rate of 2,500 words per day.
3. Level of accuracy. We already discussed the levels of accuracy. If a text is solely for information then a fully automated translation is feasible but if we need 100% accurate translation the amount of time spent post-editing the MT system can often outweigh the benefits of using this system.
4. Consistency of vocabulary. Again the computer is excellent when it comes to consistency. One centralized MT system ensures consistency as opposed to a Translation vendor outsourcing a large job or different jobs over time to different translators. It is often the case that no two translators translate a sentence in the same way. Of course, the success of the MT depends on the preprogramming done beforehand.