How We Finally Solved the Dilemma of Machine Translation vs Human Translation

Just like Hamlet’s “to be or not to be”!

Machine translation vs human translation has always been a long-running debate that doesn’t fade away.

On the one hand, technology keeps improving every year, every month and every day, thus constantly raising the quality of machine translation services. There’re always opinions claiming that machine translation services will one day make human translation part of the past.

On the other hand, most translation industry observers are very much of the opinion that human translators will never be outdone. Machine translation, the analysts believe, can never reach the level of capabilities of human translation ─ neither today nor in the foreseeable future.

 With the discussion raging on, we might need to zoom in on the debate, with a view to sorting out the pros and cons of each type. Let’s do it.

Pros and cons of Machine Translation 

For more than 60 years, machine translation (MT) has been going through a lot of ups and downs, with the translation output frequently clunky, and the systems consistently unable to learn on the go. However, things have become a little better with the advent of neural machine translation, such as the popular Google Translate, which is making a bit of progress in terms of “learning on the fly”, reducing the volume of required data and delivering a relatively better translation quality.

In 2018, Google Translate translated 143 billion words per day across 100 languages. Significantly, this seems to be clearly in excess of what our world’s human translators could handle in one year!

All in all, we can summarize the advantages of machine translation in the following:

1.      Volume. It can handle more content.

2.      Faster. Quick turnaround time.                                                                  

3.      One tool. It’s possible to translate between multiple languages.

4.      Updates. MT technology is improving day by day.

However, we shouldn’t forget the following disadvantages of machine translation:

·        Forget about context!

·        Low accuracy.

·        Even when there’s some accuracy, it is highly inconsistent across different languages.

So, what about the cost?

It goes without saying that in some areas ─ such as pharma, medicine and the legal profession ─ machine translation can’t be used as it might lead to tragedies. Accuracy is a must when we translate such materials as legal documents, aviation manuals, instructions for medical equipment, and many other types of documents that require 100% accuracy. In such cases, mistakes may result in the loss of human lives or large amounts of money and, worse, it might wreak havoc to the image of your company. Irreparable damage, isn’t it?

Pros and Cons of Human Translation

Human translation is different from machine translation services in two important areas: turnaround times and costs. However, the genius of humans, reflected in areas of quality and quality assurance, puts businesses that need to outsource translation in a position where they have to make wise calculations to decide whether the advantages of this kind of translation outweigh the shortcomings.

Human translation has the following advantages:

1.  The more experienced your team is, the more accurate the final output. You can control accuracy!

2.  Unlike the case in machine translation services, linguists have the ability to use their expertise and good judgment to understand the style and tone of content, even if the source text contains errors or typos. 

3.  Context matters! Human beings, especially experienced translators, usually have the ability to get to the context instead of simply translating word by word.

4.  When the target language is the translator’s mother tongue, the translator will not only understand the language but will also grasp the cultural nuances surrounding everything in the source text so that she may produce final content that the foreign audience clearly understands.

5.  A review is sort of a treasure! Humans can translate and then review to spot errors and boost quality.

6.  Human translators, not machines, will be able to understand, interpret and translate such figures of speech as metaphor, paradox, simile, understatement, pun, personification, hyperbole, and oxymoron.

7.  Idioms and idiomatic use of language can only be understood and translated by humans. If you use any translation software for translating “you’ve bitten off more than you can chew”, you’ll end up with a joke!  

8.  Unlike machine translation services, a professional human translator will have an aptitude for knowing where the word-for-word translation isn’t good and finding a suitable alternative.

9.  When you translate such important branding items as slogans, taglines, etc., forget machine translation altogether!

Yet, human translation has some disadvantages:

1.  Long turnaround times.

2.  Only translation agencies can support multiple languages. An individual translator usually can translate into one or two languages.

When to Use Machine Translation or Human Translation?

The ever-evolving discussion around machine translation vs human translation should finally boil down to when we should use each of them.  

When it comes to machine translation services, they should be used in several areas, including:

1.      For translating a large bulk of content when we just need the general meaning, or when our key objective is to “get the gist”. This applies to automated chat, e-commerce sites and other cases that require translating large amounts of text at instant speed. 

2.      For the translation of internal documents for use inside your company, when you don’t need a high level of accuracy.

3.       When we wish to translate large chunks of content for a human translator to improve upon.

As for human translation, it is used in the following areas:

1.  For translation where accuracy is primary. In these cases, machine translation services won’t work.

2.  For translating advertising or marketing content that involves using language in a creative or metaphorical way.  

3.  When you need to honor your commitment to delivering accurate translation ─ as in the case of health and safety materials, product instructions, medical guidelines, legal documents and other ultra-sensitive pieces of content.

4.  When the translated content is targeting a consumer audience.

How Does EuroLingo Handle the Dilemma of Machine Translation vs Human Translation?

At Eurolingo Machine Translation Company, we don’t have a black-and-white answer to this debate. On the contrary, we believe that both types of translation are important, and each should be playing a very different role to the benefit of our clients.

In fact, we support both services, human translation and machine translation. Our job in this area is to focus on choosing the right service for each client on a case-by-case basis. We carefully analyze the client’s translation project. Then we choose the best service for them depending on a number of criteria, what type of content does the client need to translate, how important is accuracy, quality, and brand resonance for their target audience, is the content simple or complex and does it contain specific terminology ─ technical, medical or legal?

At the end of the day, we finally advise you on the best option for your project.  

Don’t hesitate to contact us for a free quote or to seek the advice of our company.