On January 7th, 1954, a massive IBM computer, dubbed the “polyglot brainchild”, translated over sixty sentences from Russian to English. This computer, the IBM 701, marked the first publicly announced instance of machine translation. Lauded as a miracle and a massive advancement in the fields of both computer science and linguistics, this achievement sparked researchers to quickly proclaim that all translation would be done entirely by computers in just a few short years. This, however, was the not the case.
When it comes to the debate between machine translation vs. human translation, there is always going to be a large and vocal majority who claim that machine translation will never replace good, old-fashioned human translation. As things stand, that majority is entirely correct. While the descendants of the IBM 701, like Microsoft and Google translate, can do quite impressive jobs in their own right, for the wide breadth of translation services that international and globalizing companies require, human translation will always be the number one choice.
In today’s global economy, where some businesses are operating in over 100 different languages, the need for mass translation is greater than ever, but currently machine translation is not quite up to the task. To explain why, below are the 3 most common issues found with machine translation:
Too Many Languages
Today, there are about 7,000 languages in use, 2,000 of which are described as “endangered”. Using the most widely-used machine translator, Google Translate, as the benchmark, it becomes very clear that the translation industry as a whole is very far off from reaching the goal of total automation. At present, Google translate can only translate around 80 languages. As such, Google Translate and other similar services are just not able to support the translation needs of global business. Currently, experts place a conservative estimate of around 1,000 languages that are of significant global economic importance, meaning that machine translation still has a lot to learn.
Language is Too Important
The language a company uses to describe its services or products is central to showing the heart and soul of a company, and what distinguishes that company from the next. The identity and branding that is imbued into a company through the words they use is equally as important to the company as the actual products and services themselves. As such, relying on a method of translation that does not have the capacity to accurately portray a company or its products identity through its language will leave a newly globalized company as nothing but a husk of its former self.
Good Translation is Difficult
The biggest reason machine translation will never replace human translation—at least not for a very, very long time—is that not even the average bilingual person can do the job of a professional translator. For most translation jobs, much more goes into the art of translation than simply the knowledge of two languages. Translators are not 1-to-1 dictionaries who spit out direct, literal translations. Translators craft entirely new ways to say things whereupon they draw on years and years of experience, not only from their linguistic backgrounds, but also from their cultural, historic, and personal knowledge as well.
The difference that will always remain when it comes to machine translation and human translation is that, unlike a machine, a human translator breathes life and a sense of humanity into the words they create. When looking for translation solutions, look for a language service provider who understands value of machine technology in translation, perceives the pitfalls of total automation, and sees the value added by human translators.
By Jordan Papolos Technical Writer at CSOFT International