Communicating in just one language just isn’t good enough. As distance becomes an inconvenience rather than an insurmountable obstacle, people not only travel more, but they settle in different parts of the world. Take London for example: there are more than eight million citizens living in this city; do they all speak just English? If you thought the answer was yes, then you were wrong. Most of them speak two languages. London has a diverse range of people and cultures, who speak more than 300 languages.
Being able to have a conversation in a different language is the result of a lot of time and hard work, especially if you’re older than six. And if time means money, then not everybody has time to learn a language properly. Even if they do, few of them can learn more languages. This raises the question: How does one communicate with other people if he/she doesn’t know their language? I’m talking about the Polish that you buy food from or the Indian that stands in the same queue as you. The modern busy adult might think technology can help. No wonder there are so many translation apps out there.
In a recent video on the BBC, ‘Will the web’s translation tech make us multilingual?’, Lara Lewington goes behind the scenes of translation technology and puts to the test the iTranslate and the Google Translate apps. Both apps were 50% or less accurate in recognising the source language and translating it into English. Some phrases were easily translated, but others were incomprehensible. The test conversation was indeed short, so the percentages might change for a longer dialogue.
Voice recognition carries some of the blame, but even after continuing the test by typing the words to be translated, the results were not that satisfying. One can get the gist of a conversation using translation apps, but having a normal conversation is out of the question for the moment.
Even in a perfect scenario, where voice recognition works perfectly or it is totally skipped by typing the words, and being online or offline is not a variable, one might still be disappointed with the result of a translation app.
For the moment all technological software for translation do work pretty well when only the general idea of a phrase or of a short paragraph is enough. However, when it comes to longer content, even the basic terminology – not just the legal, medical or financial – still needs professional translators. Only a specialist can translate something without losing the context.
“It’s basically the problem of encoding the totality of human knowledge about the world and the way language interacts with it. And that’s the whole problem about how to represent human intelligence – general intelligence. Will we ever solve it? That’s the same as asking: ‘Will we ever understand how the human mind works?’”
Shalom Lappin, Professor of Computational Linguistics at King’s College London
As a professional translation company, we use computers and software (Translation Memory) only to help our work. The quality of our services is based on human intelligence. After the initial translation is completed, another individual – a second pair of specialised eyes – will check our work. Our translation project managers then quality-check each and every translation before they deliver it back to the client. This includes checking page layouts, line endings and ensuring no sections have been left out, plus a host of other last minute checks dependent on clients’ needs.
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