We live in a globalised world and, as I’m sure you have noticed if you have ever travelled abroad, English is widely spoken internationally. You may also have used a little thing called Google Translate once or twice. Automated translation is a current trend in the industry, and it is used by companies worldwide to translate their contents in bulk, quickly and, above all, cheaply. So what purpose does the translator serve on this day and age? Let’s explore this question.
Believe it or not, translation is one of the oldest trades there are -the first texts comprising the Bible were translated from Hebrew into Greek in the 3rd century B.C.- and its continuance is currently ‘threatened’ by the emergence of what is known as PEMT (Post Editing Machine Translation). This is where a computer that has been fed hundreds of thousands of individual words, phrases and texts generates a ‘translation’ from an original text, subsequently reviewed by a human linguist for grammatical errors and mistranslations. This has grown and improved so much in the past 10 years and in many cases -notably for technical texts- it is undoubtedly the future.
Despite this, the need for human translation has never been greater. We now communicate more than ever, it is now commonplace for companies to operate worldwide and we can watch the same Netflix shows in Japan, Argentina or the UK. So why can all of this be machine-translated as well?
Think about the word ‘duck’. Simple enough, isn’t it? Now think about these sentences: ‘Do you see the ducks in the pond?’; ‘He was out for a duck’; ‘Duck! There’s a ball flying at you’; ‘I’m going to duck my appointment and go to the cinema instead’. A translator is the person with the cultural and linguistic insight that allows them to separate and differentiate meanings, producing a translation that fits.
Finally, and most importantly, we must consider the emotional factor, that which connects a reader with a text. Making a reader react to their translation in the same way as a reader of the original text would is what a translator strives for and it is only possible because of their own human experiences.
While a machine will never be capable of replicating that, we can and should use this technology for what it is: a helpful tool that can speed up the process, making it cheaper and more consistent but that, as with all tools, is not a fit-for-all that we can apply in the same way to an instruction manual and a marketing text.