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Why you cannot rely on machine translation for your content

Machine translation is especially pernicious to legal documents!

R2D2 and The-Birth-of-Venus by Pilcrow

What would a machine feel by looking at the birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli? Nothing! A specialised program could tell you what was drawn, the technique and material used, but it would fail to understand the emotions and the beauty which emanates from the art work. The same is true with language.

Language does not only convey information, it also carries emotions. If Les Misérables of Victor Hugo had been written by a machine it would be a painful read, like opera sung by your satnav, and poor Cosette's plight would fail to get your attention.

This is also the case for your corporate communications would they be press releases, advertising or research papers, they convey a message aimed at humans with the objective to convince, attract or raise awareness, by producing an emotional response in the reader.

Since there is no perfect equivalent from one language to the next, a translator makes a conscious choice in determining the best “equivalent” in a target language, taking into account the objective, the target audience, the context, etc. In fact, if you gave 10 different translators the same piece to translate, you would get 10 different translations, and they would all be correct.

If that piece was given to a machine translation (MT) it would lose that editorial touch and would be extremely linear. While improvements over the years have made MT increasingly reliable in translating the overall message, especially if English is one of the languages (more data is available online for MT), it always fails to feel and sound “natural”.

When to use Machine translation

This doesn’t mean that MT has no place in the world. It is a remarkable tool which is available 24/7 for anyone needing a quick translation (think Google Translate). Since it can access content online from a wide range of languages and sources, with big groups such as Google and Facebook investing millions in AI and new algorithms, the quality of MT has indeed improved over time.

It allows to get the gist behind a text, or provide access to documents that are not worth being translated professionally. However, to obtain a professional results and ready to publish content (corporate communications, website translation, marketing material, etc.), it is critical to call upon the services of professional translators.

by William B.C. Hartley

Source: LinkedIn

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