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Man vs. Machine

Machine translation systems: hard-working little helpers

Machine translation systems and CAT tools both have their purposes, applications – and limitations. In the following sections, we will briefly explain the differences in addition to the possible uses of machine and machine-supported translation.
The general rule of thumb is: the more creative, emotional, inspiring and fluid a text is, the less a computer can help.

Machine translation (MT)

So far, no robots have taken their place alongside humans in the football stadium during a relegation match or joined humans to enjoy the sunset from an alpine chalet. Nor can they express the spontaneous wit or doubts, hopes or fears, yearnings or dreams of a companion made from flesh and blood. There also aren’t any electronic cabaret, comedy or commentator modules on the market, either, that are capable of taking over from today’s popular masters of these professions, such as Josef Hader, Matthias Egersdörfer and Wolff-Christoph Fuss. Not even the most sophisticated neuronal network would stand the remotest chance against bona fide experts, artists and luminaries. This is as much the case for dramatic screenplays as it is for fantasy novels, gripping radio dramas, poignant song lyrics ...and naturally also pithy advertising texts.
In other words: when it comes to emotions and to building trust in a top-quality product or solid brand, a qualified creative specialised translator is not only the best
but also the only sensible option.

Straightforward machine translations (i.e. the computer takes care of the entire analysis, interpretation and translation of a text) are only advisable when all three of the following conditions are met:
1. Only a rough/preliminary translation is required.
2. The document in question is a factual text from a clearly defined field.
3. The translation is primarily intended for internal information and communication and
will not be made public.
Possible applications include the translation of lengthy EU draft legislation into multiple languages or of a foreign article to get the gist of the content.
Note: MT creates texts that are 80–90 per cent comprehensible – rough, unpolished, stylistically flawed, often with unintentionally amusing turns of phrase... but that can normally more or less be understood.

Machine-supported translation

So-called computer-aided translation tools – or CAT tools for short – are proven effective aids when dealing with technical texts. They consist of bilingual or multilingual databases that apply sophisticated algorithms to compare the new text with segments already translated by a human.
This special software is like a huge intermediate repository that functions on the sentence level and is filled, maintained and used by experienced language professionals. The fragments of sentences stored are suggested to the specialised translator in real time at the end of the production chain. They must then draw on their expertise to determine whether the suggestion is appropriate or not. This can save time and money when documents contain a lot of repetitions. It is generally also beneficial to the consistency.
Unlike machine translation, a qualified expert for multilingual communication, who is familiar with the subject, the client’s expectations and the final consumers, is still involved at the beginning and end of the translation process.

Outlook: the computer powerhouse

Computers are not expected to replace humans any time soon. It is far likelier that machines will complement the work of humans, occupy an entirely new niche and help to handle the vast volumes that human language professionals cannot manage alone.
Indeed, the global demand for translations is already so large that language experts can no longer keep up. The texts requiring translation are often not intended for the public at all – internal EU documents or communication within major international corporations, for instance. Documents with no impact on a company or organisation’s image, reputation or turnover.

So we even need computers as hard-working translation assistants. Entirely computer-based translation software supports well-trained, highly-specialised language service providers, allowing them to concentrate on the projects that are actually important and critical to the corporate image. For these require a human touch, feel for language, and translation competence: pithy dialogues, appealing POE (paid, owned and earned media) content and fluid, well-researched specialist publications that instantly draw readers in.

To conclude: if a translation is meant to have emotional appeal, inspire a purchase, or convince or enhance the brand image, computers are and remain nothing more than a practical tool for text and data processing. Anything else would be grossly negligent. It is well worth investing in a good creative specialised translation or transcreation by an expert in intercultural communication for your brand image.

As a multilingual text coach for international clients, Thorsten Distler has been taking the game of his clients to the next level since 2003. The track record: several million words of hard-hitting copy.

Thorsten Distler Diplom-Übersetzer (BDÜ) EN|FR|DE
Thietmarplatz 10
95473 Creußen
Phone +49 9270 349216
Mobile +49 151 22885868
Mail for press contact

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