It was over a decade ago that Google Translate hit our screens to help us understand, albeit in a rather rudimentary form, all the languages in an ever increasingly connected world. While the first steps of this software were overwhelmingly awkward and led to the most bizarre translations one could imagine, years of tweaking have transformed it into a tool that, while never replacing a professional human translator, does have its uses in certain situations.
But when is it right to consider some form of machine translation for our texts? What are the pros and cons of Google Translate and all the different translation softwares that spawned from its success? Let’s take a look.
Full Machine Translation
As we mentioned earlier, translation software has come a long way since its inception. Completely outlandish and ridiculous translations have been slowly corrected over the years, especially in the more dominating languages, and generally the results can be at least somewhat readable.
Make no mistake though. It is still extremely rare to see a translation that makes perfect sense and has no errors, let alone maintain any sense of overall coherence and meaning. More often than not, these translations will merely be a collection of words that will require an effort from the reader to contextualize and understand, and one single error can make the whole thing fall apart.
It does have its perks in other areas out of professional translation, as sometimes a quick translation during a vacation or a business trip can be helpful to get some much needed information. However, this is where the whole thing ends, and using full machine translation in any other way can easily get you in trouble.
Machine Translation and Light Editing
Adding a bit of light editing by a human translator into the mix can remove some of the most glaring errors of a machine-only job. While it will never be comparable to a proper translation, you can rest assured that at least the overall meaning of the text will be preserved and be made understandable. Words that are outright wrong can be corrected, and concepts that are misleading or can lead to confusion can be addressed.
Its uses are more oriented to industries like tourism, where the need for perfect translation isn’t paramount. As long as the customers can more or less understand the message, it’s more than enough in some circumstances.
Machine Translation and Heavy Editing
The nearest version of a proper translation, heavy editing will involve a thorough reworking of the text and can even be used to present more formal documentation as long as it’s not too specific or technical in nature. The results will be perfectly readable, with no errors, and with the overall message intact. However, that doesn’t mean it will have stylistic coherence or be a pleasure to read. It is a method that will always prioritize function over form, and is still far from a professional translation made by a human being.
This approach can be useful when translating lengthy documentation that almost nobody will ever read, but needs to be understandable just in case. Its reduced cost can also be a perk if there is a lot of text to translate, and the information within simply has to be clear and understandable.
Machine translation has its place, but at this stage its uses are still rather narrow. Technical documents, medical translation, and any artistic form like books and movies, remain far out of reach from the capabilities of these software applications. Perhaps as the technology improves, we will someday see Shakespeare’s works perfectly translated by a program, but right now we are still light years away from that scenario. Unlike chess, humans are still far better at translating than machines.