by Dec 15, 2020

Can Machine Translation Replace Human Translators?

Can Machine Translation Replace Human Translators?

For me, machine translation and human translation are things of two different worlds. It does not mean that something is generally better than the other. Both have its pros and cons but people started more and more talking about artificial intelligence and brilliance of machines over humans. So here comes the question, can machine translation replace human translators?

To answer it, I wrote a short note, listing all the differences between machine translation and human translation, carefully measuring the curve of final time, price, and quality of translation required by each method.

For those who is not directly involved in translation business, the difference between time and price might come as a shock. The average human translator produces somewhere between 400 to 600 words per hour, whereas a machine translator can handle the same task in a few minutes.

It seems at first, that machine translation is more efficient in terms of time, but let’s not rush on making the conclusions yet.

Even though, the machine translation is so much faster and cheaper with words, it has a gigantic gap in terms of quality.

But machines are learning, and learning fast, you may say. Of course, they do. But translation is like a living organism that can be fully understood only by other living organism and there are a lot of proofs to that.

Let’s take literary translation

Translating a book, at times, is like solving a Universal math problem (I am not even exaggerating here); it demands every ion of human’s attention, experience, knowledge, and creativity something that machines will unlikely ever learn.

Translators spend years learning rules of a foreign language to know how to break them later in translation. This is exactly what helps a translator to deliver a good, highly skilled translation. But machines learn rules to just follow those rules. It is what makes machine translation at times awkward, senseless, stupid, and even wrong.

I am a hundred percent sure that machine translation will never ever replace human translation in literary translation but what about other specializations?

What about legal translation?

Well, I doubt you would trust a machine to translate an important document since if it makes even a tiniest mistake you can get into a bit legal trouble.

Medical translation? You do not want to risk to get wrong information on how to take a prescribed drug, do you?

Or to get inaccurate technical translation?

And though machine translation can be a cheaper way to get anything translated to any language in a matter of few minutes, it is still a bad, unreliable option when it comes to a serious translation.

But do not get me wrong. Machine translation can still be useful in some forms of translation. It is amazing at translating simple-structured sentences, (I like to use machine translation in my CAT tool when translating because it helps to save a lot of time and mental resources), and I also actively use machine translation in learning languages. I use it both like a dictionary and spell checker which helps to learn more efficiently and save a lot of time.

Machine translation is also good for home use.

Some people use machine translation as a way to save a bit of money on human translation, which works only if you have at least basic knowledge in the language you are translating into. Because trust me, no translator will work on a disastrous machine translation as a proofreader (the price of 'translation proofreading' is two times lower than the price of 'actual translation') since the amount of work will be the same, if not more.

So my answer is that machine translation will never replace human translators, and even if so happens and machines become more proficient in translation, people would still need actual translators to check the accuracy of the machine translation.

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Tom V.

Tom V. Dec 15, 2020

Nice work


Franka Dec 15, 2020

@Tom V. Thank you!


Del Dec 29, 2020

Nice post Franka — I learned a lot about this — it was very informative. I must admit I’ve never had to have anything translated but this info might come in handy. ☕️☕️


Franka Dec 29, 2020

@Del, thank you so much, happy to hear it was informative!

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