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An Aid, not a Replacement: Machine Translations and Translation Software

6/28/2017 by Sara Leonhartsberger

Within the Digital Age, software technology has sprung to the forefront of several professions, whether digital blueprints for the architect, a digital catalog for the librarian, or machine translations and translation software for the translator. However, there remains a stark contrast in the perception of technology’s purpose within these professions; while the architect and librarian are perceived as professionals using technology as a tool, the translator must contend with the view of technology as a replacement. With the advent of easily accessible machine translators such as Google Translate, a notion of professional translation services being no longer necessary originated, pitting translation professionals against the technology. Instead of viewing machine translation and translation software as aids to translation, many translators have now developed a reluctance to implement these methods for their perceived threat to the profession.

Nevertheless, both machine translations and translation software can and should serve as aids to professional translators, not as their replacement.  While a professional translator has vital knowledge of word pairings and idioms in both the target and source language that a machine translation may not possess, machine translations and translation software quicken yet maintain the quality of the translation process. Language is a form of communication uniquely human, with phrases, mannerisms, and colloquialisms that a human translator is best suited to implement, whether in the initial translation or within the editing of a machine-translated work—yet the value of machine translation is not to be discounted.  For example, translation memories, databases of previous terms utilized in translation, provide translators immediate access to translation and support the translator’s past translation decisions, maintaining consistency throughout various projects.  Translation technology also helps the translator to catch errors in large bodies of text, furthering the quality of the final product delivered to the client. The experience of the translator combined with the capabilities of translation technology can improve the quality of the overall translation process—a goal both client and professional translator can appreciate.

In conjunction with other professions, translation has technological tools to aid the craftsmanship of the professional; machine translations and translation software should not be considered as replacements for human translators. Translators working in tandem with translation technology can provide their best quality work, one with the intricacies of human language and the accuracy of machine assistance. Rather than a force to be feared, translation technology can be viewed as a honing tool for professional use. 

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