What Human Translators Know that Machine Translators Don’t

With Google launching Google Neutral Machine Translation (GNMT), you might wonder if humans who do translation will soon become extinct. Well, that will never be the case. Machine translation isn’t new — it’s been around for many years. You would think that companies that need translation done would just fire all their localization vendors and save themselves lots of money, right? Wrong! 

Per the Centre for Next Generation Localisation,the Localization Industry is the 4th fastest-growing industry in the U.S. Why? Because even though machine translation is convenient and can maybe help you write a few words to impress your foreign friends, it can never replace translation done by humans because it’s just doesn’t know what humans know. So, what do human know that machines don’t? Let’s look at a few examples.

Human translators know how to translate correctly

And if they don’t understand the content, they will probably do some research to understand it before translating. Using machine translation is like using the thesaurus. Let me give you an example: have you seen that Friends episode where Joey uses a thesaurus to help him look smart? What he tried to say was, “They are warm, nice, people with big hearts.” By using a thesaurus, however, it turned into, ”They are human prepossessing homo sapiens with full sized theoretic pumps.” It may not be that extreme when you use a machine translator, but you get the point. Machines just don’t really know how to translate correctly. You really need that human touch to fully understand the content. Not to mention that human translators review their work, and machine translation just tells you, “good luck,” after it has given you its version of translated content.

Human translators know who you are

In some languages, there’s gender usage – male voice or female voice. For example, in Thai, the word “I” can be translated in at least 10 different ways, depending on who you are, who you are talking to, and what gender you are. When looking at the content, human translators will know how to translate it correctly. But if you use machine translation, you can do “Eenie Meenie Minie Mo,” and hope and pray that you pick the right word choice for it. Not only do you lose credibility in the eyes of your clients, but it can also be disrespectful to the native speakers of that language. The mistake could be costly!

Human translators know Slang

For me, one of the hardest parts of learning another language is learning idioms. A lot of English content contains slang; especially in movies. Machine translation won’t pick up on slang. For example, if a human translator sees, “oh wow, your brand new car is sick!” the human translator will probably translate something like, “oh wow, your brand new car is super cool.” Want to take a guess at what a machine’s translation would look like? Something close to, “oh wow, your brand new car is not feeling well.”? Machine translation just doesn’t know slang.

Still considering using machine translation? Machine translation can be your acquaintance, but it shouldn’t be your friend. If you want to keep your credibility, stick with human translators.

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