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Will machine translation kill the art of translation?

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In the last few weeks Machine Translation solutions have gone crazy. I recently wrote about the development of Word Lens for the iPhone and how translation technology is revolutionising the use of language on the internet. This week Google and Twitter announced advancements in the use of machine-translation software for mobile applications.

It seems that the whole world now wants to communicate and wants to do it in its own language. With communications no longer restricted to the desktop, due to the rise of mobile via smart phones, having easy-to-use instant translations is now a vital service people depend on.

This increase in access to communication in languages other than English means that people will soon expect multilingual content wherever they are on the internet, and if your organisation doesn’t offer it they’ll go elsewhere. With international trade becoming more and more competitive, having accurate translation could be the difference between your business success and failure.

So should you have machine translation on your website?

The simple answer is no.

While machine translation is an amazing tool, it’s not accurate enough. No doubt you’ve sweated for hours in marketing meetings to get your corporate style just right, so are you going to be happy leaving the translated copy to a computer that has no idea of the context or style of your communications? No, I thought not.

What machine translation is doing is increasing the need for content to be translated. Sensible companies will use experienced human translators to turn their carefully crafted copy into something that translates not only the words but also the brand values of the organisation.

Professional translators will take the time to understand your company, read your style guides, use pre-agreed terminology, and ask you questions about parts they don’t understand. In short, they’ll add value to the translation.

With marketing copy in particular it may be that copy can’t simply be translated directly; it may need to be re-written to ensure that the target market can understand it. Cultural references don’t always directly translate and there’s no way a machine translation system can know this.

So will machine translation kill the art of translation?

We don’t think so. What it’ll do is drive the need for professional translation simply because the requirement for translated copy will increase and people won’t be happy with the quality machine translation provides.

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The Global Lingo Vendor Management Team is happy to release the third edition of the Vendor Newsletter. This issue introduces more of our team and is mostly focused on how to improve efficiency as a translator and transcriber. Click here to view the Spring edition of the Vendor Newsletter