Machine Translation, Translation

Speed Versus Accuracy In Document Translation


The rapid expansion of the global market has led to unprecedented opportunities for businesses willing to set their sights on new international markets. Adding to the exponential expansion of business opportunities are the advancement of translation software and the translation service industry as a whole.

Businesses are now able to share goods, services, information, and educational opportunities with people in their own language. This global expansion is not a casual endeavor, though. It is a race with businesses from every point on the globe competing for their place in each new market. The challenge is balancing the necessary speed of translations with the accuracy essential for consumer trust.

Understanding Translation Options

The fastest of translation options is machine translation. While often viewed as substandard, the software is more advanced than the simple “identify and replace” of days past. Google translate, one of the best-known computer translation programs in the market, is available to everyone. Many specialized software programs go a step further and are able to identify the way a word is used in a sentence and make adjustments for context. Consider the way editing software such as Hemingway and Grammarly are able to identify textual mistakes, context errors, and so forth.

Computer-assisted translation is often confused with machine translation, but the two are very different services. In a computer-assisted or computer-aided translation, a human translator uses a computer to assist them in the translation process. Much of the mundane and standard translation can be accomplished quickly by the computer, and the human translator can edit the transcript or text to ensure there is proper syntax, colloquialisms, and cultural relevance.

Human translation is just what it sounds like. A human takes the text from one source and translates it into another language word by word, line by line, and concept by concept.

The Most Common Options When Balancing Speed Versus Cost

Machine Translation

            Benefits: Machine translation is obviously the quickest route to translate documents from one language to another. If you are a high school student looking to turn in a term paper in another language, this is not a bad option. If you are writing a letter to a relative in another country, machine translation is brilliant. Perhaps the greatest usefulness of computer translation is not in the sending, but the receiving.

Computer translation provides an excellent way to quickly translate a website, copy and paste text from an email for a quick translation, or get the gist of a topic from a foreign source.

            Considerations: Businesses or academics looking to impress their readers might want to think twice before relying on machine translations, however. When languages have significant differences in style, grammar, and cultural nuance, machines have a much greater difficulty providing accurate translations.

Verb tense and subject-verb agreement are the main causes of grammatical errors in machine translation, but in technical documents, scholarly papers, and business documents, where cultural nuance is essential, machine translation faces its greatest challenge.

Computer-assisted Translation 

            Benefits: On the scale of fast to slow, computer-assisted translation is faster than human translation but significantly slower than a machine alone. Text translated by a computer and then edited by a human has the advantage of almost instantaneous translation that can be checked for right word usage, grammar, and ensure that concepts are proper. Because the translator does not have to translate each and every word, this option is not only faster than human translation but significantly less expensive.

Translators also have the advantage of computer-aided analytics which can help identify word usage, word frequency, and so forth in an instant instead of tracking them by hand and working backward once the whole document is initially translated.

           Considerations: The limits of computer-aided translation are found in two main areas: the strength of the translation agency and the quality of their translators, and the number of translators used on a project. Many agencies using computer-aided translation rely much more on the computer side of the equation than the human element.

The translator assigned to the editing process needs to be an expert in the target language, and understand not only words and grammar but the nuances of the language and the cultural aspects of translation. Many times the senior translators are not used on assisted projects, and the junior translators do not have the experience or skill necessary to turn in a flawless product.

The other challenge often associated with CAT is that once the text is translated by the computer, it is often assigned to several translators for editing. For standard documents, this is not a problem, and the results are rarely a problem. However, on academic documents, technical writing, or other high-end translation, consistency of text is important, and translators often approach colloquialisms, buzzwords, and other unique aspects of language differently. The differences can lead to a disjointed document, end up causing confusion for the reader, or, worse yet, result in inaccurate readings and understanding.

Human Translation

            Benefits: Human translation is the slowest of the translation forms, but it is also the most accurate when assigned to a translator of proper skill and training. Surprisingly, when dealing with technical documents that may require a significant amount of CAT editing, a human translator is often not that much slower. The benefit of a human translator is found in accuracy. When documents must have the highest level of translation accuracy, especially when a language has a high cultural context, there is no substitute for a human translator.

           Considerations: Just like there are differences in the quality and effectiveness of computers, smartphones, automobiles, attorneys, and other commodities and services, human translators are not different. Being bilingual does not qualify a person to be a translator. Without an expertise in the linguistics of the source and target languages, the cultural nuances of both, and field-specific knowledge of the material being translated, you might not be gaining any advantage over a simple machine translation.

In translation, a single mistake can make you look foolish to an international audience. If your documents have multiple errors, you can lose your reputation. When translations present anything less than professional expertise, your customers may wonder what else you have decided to skimp and save on. If you are willing to cut corners on your translations, what other shortcuts might you have taken?

While there is not a one-size-fits-all translation style, there is a singular truth that fits all circumstances: it is cheaper to ensure things are done right the first time instead of having to try to fix the problems that come from less than perfect translation.

This post is written by Robert Stitt, a content writer with Ulatus.

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