Machine Translation

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Photo taken on a mountain near Interlaken in Switzerland

Machine translation (MT) has often caused problems in my working life as a translator of Spanish into English and an editor. That’s because some end clients use an online translation tool (such as Google Translate) to get an English version of their text, which they then say has been translated by a professional, someone in-house or written directly into English by themselves, so they can then ask for a revision or an edit. Given that revisions usually cost far less than a translation from scratch and take less time to complete, the object of the exercise is apparently to save money and/or time.

Clients don’t seem to realise, however, that:

a) it’s obvious when MT has been used (poor sentence structure and vocabulary choices, grammatical errors, negative constructions rendered as positive).

b) the quality is usually appalling (MT translates sentence by sentence and does not consider the text as a whole, how each part links together, context, the overall tone, cultural nuances).

c) translators are not going to edit/revise machine-translated text for the same price as a revision of a text that has been translated by a human because it takes them far longer, and this extra time has to be paid for. That means there are no real savings to be made.

d) by allowing translators time to do their job properly (approximately 2,000-3,000 words per day), the resulting translation will be a text worth waiting for.

PEMT (post-editing of machine translation, also known as MTPE—machine translation post-editing) of customised MT output for certain types of repetitive, non-challenging texts for information purposes only might be a viable option for some clients. But it is not a service I offer.

I strive each day to perfect my craft and spot every stylistic, spelling or punctuation mistake. Long-term clients turn to me to evaluate their new translators, revise texts for publication and liven up soulless copy. If you are determined to use MT to translate your texts, then that is your prerogative. But I am certainly not the editor you are looking for.

If you are interested in learning more about the subject, below is a list of the entries on this blog that talk about MT and PEMT. I have also listed some recommended reading posts in the Machine Translation section of the Interesting Articles for Translators & Interpreters page.

  1. Warning about Google Translate (also available in Spanish: El traductor de Google: Aviso a navegantes and in French: Méfiez-vous de Google Translate)
  2. The Premium the Bulk and the PEMT (also available in Spanish: De traducciones premium, al por mayor e postedición)
  3. Google Translate ¿Un nuevo competidor? Guest post by Raquel Bayarte Ruíz (currently only available in Spanish)
  4. The Latest Trend in the Translation Industry: PEMT (also posted on LinkedIn, where an interesting discussion ensued, and available in Spanish: La última tendencia en la industria de la traducción: PEMT and in French: Nouveau cap pour le secteur de la traduction : la post-édition)
  5. Translation gone wrong: the case of the “Clitoris Festival” in Galicia (also posted on LinkedIn)
  6. Machine Translation and its Different Types by Yves Savourel (Argos Multilingual)

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