in All Things Localization, Language Technology, Translation

The relationship between humans and machines is a discussion that is becoming more urgent and compelling with every decade. Common processes such as interacting socially, or ordering goods and transportation to and from places have become easily manageable through the use of mobile technology and the endless amounts of apps available. This raises a number of predictable points of debate; mainly whether we are losing too much of our autonomy to machines and whether life’s common processes have become too easy –eroding a natural alertness to them that should be innate.

Where do translation and its evolution through technology come into this debate?  Do the gradual mechanization of translation and the variety of impressive translation tools available mean the eventual end of human translators? Many people would argue that languages are specific to the cultures that created them and, because they are embedded in human culture, it is impossible to envision machines or computer programs being at a level where they can keep up with humans. A common accusation is that machine translation lacks the ‘soul’ that is inherent in language and that the innately poetic nature of human language couldn’t possibly be properly interpreted by a computer program.

With all this in mind, there have been recent innovations in translation technology that would make anyone interested in translation sit up and take note. SDL Trados is the current market leader in translation tool software. It utilizes an effective system that allows translators to successfully make comparisons and highlight errors between original source material and their translation. Trados Studio also comes with many other useful features including Multiterm, Spell Checker, Track Changes, Preview, and a glossary for technical terminology or common phrases, which allows translators to ensure that the same translation is used consistently throughout a project. These features offer translators an array of instruments which allow them to quickly and effectively navigate and translate material. The useful functionalities in such a system suggest that it is ideal for human translators to be in control of such innovative systems, increasing productivity, but still being able to handle translation with the ‘soul’ or ‘feeling’ that is so vital to a genuine understanding of human language.

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A recent exciting development in translation technology has been introduced by Stepes; a translation tool that utilizes mobile technology to provide translation to clients from normal people proficient in the required language. The possibilities of a tool like this are enormous, not only in its accessibility, but also in its exploration of the ‘human touch’ in translation, organized in an advanced, comprehensive network and system which is easily accessible via mobile technology.

Another development in translation tool innovation that must be mentioned is Lilt. Lilt generates suggestions via an adaptive machine translation system, whereas SDL Trados relies primarily on translation memory. According to its developers, Lilt learns from its human users and over time can improve productivity as well as accuracy. The net result is that human reviewers produce far higher volumes of content, with nearly the same level of quality, for a fraction of the time and cost – indicating an increasing reflexivity and awareness in translation tools.

The discussion about the increasing awareness of translation systems eventually making human translators obsolete usually leads to a debate about the ‘soul’ of language, and the inability of machines to interpret or reproduce this distinctly human and abstract ingredient. Considering what’s on offer, this outlook may be a little bleak. Translators are benefitting from increasingly dynamic translation tools that seem to complement a controller as opposed to controlling themselves. Perhaps in the future, it will be more expedient for advanced translation tools and systems to deal with technical translation associated with industry and for humans to deal with translation that requires particular finesse. Whatever the outcome, the evolution of man’s relationship with technology has not only reduced the need for certain activity, but also increased the possibility of new and exciting opportunities.