We have been tracking the progress of machine translation technology since starting our company 19 years ago. Admittedly, we were skeptical of the technology and like most translation service providers we sought to distance ourselves from machine translation. Quite simply, we were behaving like veritable buggy whip makers of a century ago: new technology appeared to threaten our livelihood, so we had to reject its potential.
I can’t speak for the translation industry as a whole, but it is now clear to Advanced Language Translation that machine translation technology – when using the best available technology and when deployed as part of a robust process – can offer big benefits for specific types of content, languages and projects.
That’s our official “company line” regarding our use of machine translation in our work, but what about “free-range” machine translation? That’s the woolly technology already out there on the Web doing a lot of heavy lifting out of sight. You may be consuming machine translated content everyday without evening knowing it!
For example, let’s say you are looking to book a room in Madrid for an upcoming trip to Spain. You are checking out rooms on a travel site and decide to read the reviews. There’s a good chance that the foreign language reviews may have been translated on-the-fly using machine translation (“MT”) technology. User-generated content like product reviews are a prime candidate for machine translation; they provide valuable information to other users, and as long as they are generally accurate and make sense, they are still useful.
In social media, MT is starting to take a foothold; adding automatic translation capability so that global users can access information in real-time that may not have been written in their own language. Similarly, Google includes a “translate” link to automatically translate content found in the search – typically if your search includes websites that are not in English, for example.
In the IT industry, machine translation is having a more immediate impact. Microsoft’s support website for developers (MSDN) uses Bing Translatorto automatically translate knowledgebase articles into multiple languages. Facebook also uses Bing Translator for converting page posts into other languages.
Personally, I found the Google Translate app invaluable when traveling in Italy last summer. If you keep your sentences in the source language (English in my case) simple, then the accuracy is quite good. It also makes for a really fast dictionary.
So, don’t be afraid to use machine translation, just be sure you understand the limitations. Like any other tool it’s not always the maker of the tool who may have missed the mark – most of the time it’s the user!
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