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Argument Against Automated Translation

Many companies in need of translation usually do not understand what they need.  Given this ignorance, they may come up with the idea of getting translations done automatically by a computer software.  Once this is tried and tested for the first time, it is usually the last time, because the translation does not serve its original purpose: to communicate effectively with its target audience.

Consider the following before you decide to purchase an automated translation software:

I will give you the example of Spanish, as this is a language that I am fluent in. Think first about the register the language is using.  In Spanish, there are two ways of addressing people, formal and informal. In English, there is only one. Not only do pronouns change depending upon the register being used, but verbs and other words change too. The software does not know what kind of register the people are using, and therefore poorly communicates entire sentences.

Then there is the word choice from the software. Imagine a newscaster. The language and the choice of words would be completely different than if the same words were being used while a father speaks to his son. This is because the software does not recognize who the speaker is, who he is addressing, if there is a difference in rank, social status, or the like.  Think of English.  Imagine kids playing soccer in the street in a low-class neighborhood.  These children would not use the same vocabulary as a headmaster would who is addressing a teacher. All this is not taken into consideration by software that translates word-by-word.

Think of grammar differences between languages. In English the second person of the personal pronoun takes the same form for singular and plural: “you.” In Spanish, there are  four forms, two for singular (formal and informal) and two for plural (formal and informal). The software does not recognize this difference, making the conjugation of the verb that accompany the pronoun incorrect, because the verb in English almost always remains the same. Automated software does not know these nuances.

Your audience will most likely be from a given region of the target language. For example, in South America each country uses a different variant of Spanish. The nouns vary completely from one country to another. Just think of the differences between Australian, Canadian, British, and American English. Even though you still understand each other, every country has its own linguistic nuances.

Try it for yourself.  Go to a website in a different language and copy some text.  Go to Google translate.  Paste the foreign language text and translate into English.  Read the translation, and you will see my point exactly. 

A good translation depends completely on the translator’s ability to capture the essence of the text by using creativity–something only the human brain can achieve. Translating is an art.  Software just puts words together, leaving much to be desired.

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    Mike Unwalla @ TechScribe
    Posted February 11, 2009 at 5:37 am | Permalink

    You are correct. For accurate translation, use a professional translator. However, if the source text is optimised for machine translation, machine translation gives good results. For more information, see

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    Posted February 11, 2009 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    Machine translation has its place, but it can not compare to a human translation. A professional translator can look at the context of the document making the translation a much better match to the original text. It is especially important to have documents professionally translated if the document will be printed or published.

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    Posted May 20, 2009 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    Good Day.
    I just want to let you know that I have beneifted from the information here. Thanks a lot.

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    Posted May 21, 2009 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for your feedback, Froxpoili. Any questions you have, do not hesitate to ask!

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