– by Michael
The debate about machine translation (or MT to those in the industry) still rages. Certainly, machine translation has improved (at least in the more common languages) by leaps and bounds in recent years. Whilst there is a lot of debate about its positives and its negatives, there is still no definitive answer because the intended usage is the key.
Is automatic translation any good?
Fundamentally, computer programming comes down to a set of algorithms. But translation and language learning have little to do with algorithms. Learning and mastering languages certainly have to do with vocabulary and grammar (rules – which computers are good at), but language is all about discernment, judgment, decision-making and interpretation (which computers are not good at). In general, computers like neither ambiguity nor exceptions to rules. Language is by far too irregular. Translators have to make decisions all the time. It is guaranteed that if you give the same source text to ten translators, you will receive ten very different scripts back, all with their own merits. There is no right or wrong answer.
A blend of translation, copywriting, and creation
You only have to read the marketing copy in several languages of any brand out there to know that a lot of thought and discernment went into the process. Three words in a tag line will have been the result of several days of brainstorming. You can bet that those three words did not cost $1.50 either. To give it its proper name, this is not strictly translation; it is transcreation.
Whom should I choose between Google Translate and a translator in Montréal?
That’s all well and good, but many people are unconvinced as to why they should pay a human translator to translate their documents, when they can feed them into a program and a result comes out the other end – and for free! Here too, there is no definitive answer. It’s value judgment. Do you want a document on a “good enough to get the gist” basis or do you want a document done properly? It’s an investment question: is your brand, your audience or your scientific paper worth it? In other words, does the effort you put in deserve a professional service? That’s your call (which, incidentally, comes out as « c’est ton appel » in French – quod erat demonstrandum).