Is Machine Translation Leading to Lower Translation Standards?

Dynamic Language | January 24, 2012

Just as calculators have been blamed for children’s lack of math skills, could it be that Machine Translation (MT) is to blame for some questionable translation practices? And does MT cause people to have unrealistic expectations for their translation projects?

Before I delve into this controversial matter, I need to point out that I have met some truly dedicated translators while working at Dynamic Language, and this in no way applies to them. Great translators love their craft and find real pride in delivering a project of high quality. Their passion for translation, communication and the language services industry make me proud to come to work every day.

That being said, there are days I wish I never have to re-live at work. We’ve encountered a few instances in the past year of translators using machine translation to translate documents and charging for human translation. While this could be due to my journalistic past, I see this as plagiarism on the part of the translator. So, do we give them the benefit of the doubt and offer another opportunity to work with us, or do we stop using them for all future translation projects?

This controversial topic goes back to our translation ethics blog post, where we talked about staying honest in your work and accepting a project only if you have the time to complete it with quality. I understand the stress that comes with deadlines — I do quality control at the end of the translation process — but a tight deadline and a busy schedule shouldn’t cause a translator to employ lower quality practices.

Where is that line crossed, between getting help from machine translation and cheating your way through a translation?

The changing landscape of translation

In a world of easy-to-access Machine Translation and online crowdsourcing efforts, could it be that people now have unrealistic expectations for translation?

Quality human translation takes time. A translator can only work so fast! Many clients are often surprised by the length of time it takes to translate a document and will try to shorten the deadline, but there comes a time when we must step back and ask ourselves a question. How important is quality to our clients?

If quality wasn’t important to them, they would have done Google or Bing translations themselves. They seek out professional translation services because they want the best for their target audience. Language Service Providers (LSPs) and translators must remember the importance of quality for each individual client. We talk about the importance of accuracy in medical and legal translations, but the power of an accurate translation can never be underestimated, regardless of the client or the industry. And if that means being more doubtful of Machine Translation, then so be it!

What are your thoughts?

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