How Good is a Computer for Translation?

Previously we have touched on a topic of computers in the translation industry and the advantages of involving modern technologies in the translation process. Today, we will concentrate on what computers can’t do and and highlight the idea of the importance of computer for translation as a whole.


Indeed, with recent developments in translation software and technology, it seems even more possible than ever that computer for translation will be of paramount importance. Indeed, automatic translation services have made great strides since their humble beginnings.


Though, there are several areas in which computer-based translators still don’t — and most likely never will — make the grade. Computer for  translation are useful for the basics, but not much beyond that: if you’re looking for a real, high-quality translation, it’s crucial that a human and not a computer does it.


Computers don’t understand the context

In the early days of online translators, translations were done word-by-word, resulting in humorously incoherent sentences.

Nowadays, automated translations have strayed from the unreliable word-by-word method used in the past. Indeed, most consider the context of the surrounding words to deduce a particular words’ meaning. For example, a decent translation software will know that running means different things when we say “running water” and “running away.”


Still, despite these advances, a computer for translation remains only an assistant, because have no way to consider the broad, overall context of a piece of writing. Who is the audience? What is the author’s attitude towards the subject? How can the author’s tone be categorized? These questions are among the first and most important ones considered by professional translators, as they can drastically affect the overall flow and style of the piece. But they are lost with automatic translations, which cannot take such questions into account.


Computers don’t have a sense of humor

Humor is a uniquely human and highly subjective phenomenon. It depends on timing, tone, and carefully chosen words, and as a result, computer-based translators are notoriously bad at it. If you’re translating an academic paper or instructions for using a microwave, this might not be a huge problem. But if you’re trying to interpret a casual blog post or content to share on social media, automatic translators’ inability to understand humor could be a severe hindrance to your effective communication.

If your content involves puns or wordplay, the literal translations provided by automated systems will almost certainly not make sense in your target language. Indeed, successfully conveying humor requires a basic understanding of what humor is — something possessed only by real-life humans.


Computers aren’t creative

Language is not always literal. Often, we use original language or idiomatic expressions for which a literal translation will not suffice. Frequently this will involve using a completely different word — or even sentence — to convey the same sentiment.

Idiomatic expressions explain something by way of unique examples or figures of speech. And most importantly, the meaning of these peculiar phrases cannot be predicted by the literal definitions of the words it contains.

Many linguistic professionals insist that idioms are the most difficult items to translate. Translators indicate that idioms create a real problem, predicting that machine translation engines will never entirely solve.


Computers lack cultural awareness

A computer will never understand the unique choice of words to depict the state of mind, feelings or cultural particularities. It is well known that there are so many things that may exist in a source language, but can’t be found in a target language.


Culture gives different contexts to the language. The same words passed from one culture to another obtain slightly or radically different meanings. Sometimes those meaning differences represent slight or intense value differences that could be critical in translations.


The cultural implications for translation may take several forms ranging from lexical content and syntax to ideologies and ways of life in a given culture.


For every translated sentence, the translator must be able to decide on the importance of its cultural context, what the phrase means, not necessarily what it literally means, and convey that meaning in a way which makes sense not only in the target language but also in the context of the target culture.


So, if computers have so many disadvantages, where can they be useful in the translation process?


Online translations can’t take context into account, they don’t get sarcasm, they lack creativity, and they don’t understand cultural awareness. But they’re not completely useless. Indeed, they can be useful for finding out the basic meaning of something when producing a high-quality translation isn’t important.


For example, they can save much time, when you need to translate basic idea without focusing on the style and word selection.


But if you really want a high-quality translation that conveys the true essence of the source text and uses carefully chosen, a culturally appropriate language in the target text, you’ll need a real-life professional human translator to do so. Yes, computerized translations have come a long way — but they’re still far from replacing the human element, which remains the most crucial component in ensuring a successful translation.


Professional translators have mastered the skills and knowledge required in translation work. They are also capable of translating more efficiently by utilizing tools such as dictionaries, translation memories, and other methods to support the search for information.


The majority of translators specialize in translating texts of a certain area of expertise. A seasoned translator will process terms and other subject matter with greater accuracy than laymen, even those who have decent language and writing skills. This is what creates a huge gap between machine translation and professional human translation. A computer knows the topics superficially, while the specialist knows all the smallest details of the field.


Experienced translators recognize potential stumbling blocks at their own discretion. Having done so, they make the translation solutions they see fit. Alternatively, they request additional information from the customer regarding the troubling bit of text. Computer for translation will never do it.




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