Is Machine Translation a Blessing or a Curse?


The technological innovations have changed people’s life. I remember my absolute happiness about the Internet available from my home for the first time and a chance to work remotely. The same was true about electronic dictionaries, glossaries and Trados. So far, innovations have been good for translators.

Does post-editing really become increasingly popular among translators? Can it really help reduce the lead time?

Certainly, I did test machine translators as they were introduced in the market. I was disappointed. None of them seemed to be useful. As a freelance translator, I chose not to use them in my work since post-editing took more time than translating. I do not like editing others’ translations, hence, the decision was natural.

Nevertheless, I used Google Translate occasionally for my personal purposes, for example, to translate an advertisement from Chinese to Russian. Each time I was dissatisfied with the result.

In my case, it was quite distressing when some of our translators delivered machine-translated texts that had not been post-edited. It was not difficult to find out which machine translation software they had used.  I could believe that some of them had found a way to benefit from using the MT. For example, by reducing the time required to accomplish the translation assignment. I even could imagine that the finished texts could have been okay, if the translators had post-edited them. Unlike me, they could have even enjoyed the post-editing.

It is often said that final translation users only care about the price and do not appreciate the quality. However, when a client /translation agency agrees to pay for the human translation, but receives a raw machine-translated text, the situation appears to be preposterous.

I would like to think that a relatively small number of translators use MT in such an ugly way.

MT technologies are developing and some experts expect them to replace human translators within twenty to thirty years. Then translators will only be able to hope they will be still required to post-edit  the machine-translated texts. Other experts believe this will happen significantly later. Anyhow, machine translation is likely to take over a lot of translation work from human translators who use to translate simple and inessential texts.

For the time being, companies seeking to impress their counterparts should better think twice before using machine translations. When documents are required to be especially accurate  and involve cultural context, a human translator is still unmatched. Furthermore, if a translator uses a CAT-tool, the translation speed becomes significantly higher.

Most translation companies expect a translator to translate about 2,000 words per day or 250 words per hour. Some translation agencies would like a translator to translate up to 3,000 words per day. Several years ago those translators who exceeded the required performance were regarded as unprofessional translators who failed to comply with the quality standards. Now, when CAT-tools are widely used by translators, some of them declare they can translate up to 4,000 or even 6,000 words per day and are still viewed as professionals.

So, new technologies enable translators to work faster. The demand for professional translators who are native speakers of the target language remains high so far, as businesses prefer to engage experienced language specialists to do serious translations. Hence, the machines are not taking all the jobs yet, but they are clearly gaining momentum.