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Post-editing Machine Translation – Is that a good thing?

Machine Translation Editing

A new wave has hit the translation industry and it has to do with translation agencies reducing translation costs and increasing the speed of translation, but it is a good solution?

Machine translation has been around for a very long time and has come a long way, being able to truly translate entire sentences sometimes without any flaws at all. Unfortunately, in most cases, this does not hold to be true. Machines are capable of reproducing text in a realistic manner, but language and text are both things that have been developed over thousands of years and you cannot expect a machine to be able to reproduce that with all of a language’s many nuances even with the most complex of programming.

For many years in fact, translators have used machine translation APIs with computer-aided translation tools, claiming that if they proofread and correct the translations performed automatically, this would increase the speed of their work. Well, it certainly would increase speed, although what happens to the quality of these translations? From a logical standpoint, writing or translation should be creative and adapted to pre-existing content and show consistent style. The beauty of writing itself is the human element at hand. If a machine translates the text based on previous translations, algorithms and programming, it is exactly the human element that is lacking when using this method of translation.

Of course, a translator can look at the machine translation as a suggestion and “fix” it, but at the same time, there is the argument that, in truth, this hinders the translator’s creative and stylistic abilities. These abilities are only truly taken advantage of if the translator composes the text from scratch based upon and transferring the ideas of the source text into the target text at hand.

Translation agencies have invested a great deal of money in a variety of very expensive machine translation (MT) applications and are doing this for a return on their investment. It is for this reasons that many agencies are pre-translating these texts with the MT applications and then sending those machined texts to a human translator to proofread them, thereby paying them less to boot. This sounds like a viable solution to reduce costs, but in addition to the aforementioned limitations, this can cause regarding the style, originality and feel of a text. Keep in mind, that text is not being created, it is being repaired. Common business and project management logic and knowledge sustain that rework is always more time-intensive than doing something right from the beginning and the quality thereof will always be limited to a certain extent in the case of rework. The same applies not only to text, but products, constructions or services of any kind. For example, if you build a faulty house and hire someone to fix it, how great a house is it going to be structurally if it has merely been fixed. If you get a bad haircut, how great will the haircut after hiring someone to redo it?

The very same thing applies to translations. If you have someone translate something right from the start and this is done well, this will inevitably be better than any machine translation. Agencies all over the world are offering post-editing jobs to translators at a hugely reduced word price. Of course, if the translator goes and merely corrects blatant errors, to ensure that the text is grammatically correct, that may be possible, but in most cases, text has to be adapted to the application at hand if it is to be good. So, if a translator agrees to do this, in some cases, they may have to do a lot more work than if they had translated the text on their own and in addition, the quality is not going to be as good if it is not translated from scratch.

Post-editing machine translation may increase speed, but at a great compromise to quality. MT applications have much improved during recent years and there are some that believe that translators of the future will only be hired to “improve” MT applications and proofread translation memories. By logic, it can be said that language is a human element, and like any human element, it is also under a constant state of change. That is why they say “living languages”, because how we say things today will not necessarily be how we say them in 20 years. It is for this reason that it will take a very long time for MT applications to replace the work of humans.

In summary, if you are looking for a cheap translation and are willing to make huge compromises in quality, maybe MT is the right solution for you, but if you are looking for translations that are well-thought out, properly adapted to the situation at hand and are original in nature, then you will have to make sure you work with an agency that does it the good old-fashion way, namely by having a professional translator translate your documents.

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