What’s The Difference Between Machine Translation And Human Translation?

Machine Translation ButtonWith the trend of global marketing and expanding business to other countries, language translation has become a necessity. As companies aim to carve a place for themselves in international markets, they explore quicker and easier ways for translating content. They may use machine translation for dealing with a high volume of content, when quality in translation isn’t a priority. We will look in detail at the differences between machine translation and human translation.

Machine Translation

Machine translation is an automated method of providing translation services electronically. It uses software designed for this purpose.  In this method of translation, the software breaks down the text into words or phrases and reorganizes them in the sentence structure of the source language. Therefore, the translated text is syntactically incorrect because the words are in the wrong order.  Furthermore, the translation itself is frequently inaccurate or inappropriate for the intended purpose.

Machine translation is useful for translating a high volume of low profile content for which a company does not want to allocate much money. Despite the fact that the quality of machine translation is frequently flawed, companies use it to achieve a speedy turnaround.

For technical, medical or legal translation, one cannot simply rely on machine translation. The automatically translated content can have many errors because machine translation is not contextual.  A human translator must read the machine translated content to ensure the accuracy. Thus, using machine translation may prove more costly than hiring a skilled human translator.

Human Translation

Machine translation has not replaced the need for human translation because machines can only translate word for word.  Machines do a poor job of reorganizing the translated text in the correct syntactical structure for the target language and cannot interpret the source text. Therefore, the translated text is often inappropriate and crude in form.

In contrast, a human translator translates a text by keeping several things in mind. He first interprets a text and then translates it, modifying it in the translation wherever necessary. He also detects the cultural components in a given text for which no equivalent term exists in the target language.

The translator aptly conveys these cultural elements in the source text by interpreting them in the target language. As a result, the text semantically conveys the same meaning, even if not translated word for word; whereas the same text will be poorly translated through machine translation. Often machine translation fails to find a substitute word or phrase for such cultural components, leaving them as they are in the translated text.

Human translation has only one drawback. When it comes to large translation projects, like lengthy manuals or books, etc., human translators are at a disadvantage. A human translator understandably cannot work with the speed of a machine.

Combining Machine Translation with Human Translation

To keep translations cost effective and save time when dealing with a high volume of content, it is ideal to combine both machine translation and human translation. With the help of machine translation, large files can be translated in a few hours, saving time and money. You can then hire human translators to proofread and edit the translated text to make it error free.

Global companies are now combining the use of both machine translation and human translation to achieve best results. You may be at a disadvantage if you rely exclusively on either one of these methods for your business translations.

Sarah Detlef is an expert on the subject of translating and interpreting. She was instrumental in establishing the translation services agency at the University of Aberdeen and is an instructor of German, French and Spanish.  In 1990, she established 24hourtranslation.com, a full-service translation agency. Contact her with your translation questions.

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  • Naga Stewart

    Every once in a while I will see a new article that talks about new IT advances that make machine language translation almost as good as human translation. The other day, I used Google translate to convert a few personal records. After reviewing the results, I can only guess that the world of IT has a long way to go if they ever want to be as good as a professional human translator.