Software Translation vs. Human Translation

software translation vs. human translation

Software translation vs human translation has been a hot topic throughout the language services industry since the inception of such technologies. Among translation experts, there isn’t much of a debate as to whether or not software translation or human translation reigns supreme. Unanimously, everyone agrees that the technologies that fuel software translation tools are still fairly infantile. While they have come a long way since their initial launch into the market, they are no replacement for accredited human translation services. Despite this, software translation does have its place in the language services world. 

Software Translation Tools: When to Use Them

Software translation tools and other translation technologies are immensely helpful to the general public. They are easily accessible, free and can provide a general idea of the information that is being communicated between languages. For this reason, they are best reserved for personal use in situations where accuracy isn’t the primary goal. For instance, an individual may wish to translate an old family letter or contact a distant relative who lives abroad. Likewise, you may opt to use software translation tools on your smartphone to translate menus while you are traveling or to ask a local for directions. The word choices and grammar used may not be completely accurate but they will aid you greatly and allow you to access the information you need to perform basic tasks.

When You Need Accredited Human Translation vs. Software Translation

If you have leaned on translation tools for personal use, it can be tempting to let this carry over into your business projects. Software translation vs human translation; however, is much different when it comes down to accuracy. While you probably won’t encounter any serious problems if a software translation tool leads you to order chicken off of a menu instead of the fish you wanted; the consequences are much more severe when it comes to official, governmental, legal, or crucial business documents. This is because every word matters when it comes to the ownership of your business, employee immigration paperwork, global business communications, or business operation manuals. An omission or incorrect term could cost the safety of your employees, your reputation, and millions of dollars in lawsuits or legal fines.

Unlike many of our competitors, ASTA-USA Translation Services, Inc. does not lean heavily on software translation tools to translate important documents. This is because human intuition is a valuable asset that software simply cannot replace. This is why each one of our projects receives a thorough human touch from the start and undergoes rigorous proofreading and editing throughout the lifecycle of the translation project. 

The White House Addressed Software Translation vs. Human Translation Concerns

The following is a news release issued by the American Translators Association. The release warns the US White House about the risk of using software translation.
American Translators Association Cautions White House on Future Language Policy
11,000-member Association’s Letter to Obama: Technology alone is not the answer
(Alexandria, VA) October 19, 2009
The American Translators Association (ATA), the largest Association of professional translators and interpreters in North America, issued a pointed response to a call for “automatic, highly accurate and real-time translation between the major languages of the world” in the White House’s recent Strategy for Innovation policy paper.
In a letter dated October 2, ATA President Jiri Stejskal urged the Obama Administration to “take a long-term approach to language security by investing in human skills and promoting greater awareness of and expertise in foreign languages.” “Are we against technology? Certainly not,” continued Stejskal. “Most translators use computer tools to speed up their work.” Yet, both translation software and qualified human translators are vital to language security,” he noted. “Today, all the leading proponents of computer translation recognize that human beings will always be essential, no matter how sophisticated translation programs become.”
The stakes are high: translation errors create unnecessary hazards and diplomatic embarrassment. Misunderstandings can diminish prestige and goodwill in international relations. Miscommunication harms national security and global commerce.

It’s Not as Simple as Us vs. Them

Press coverage of the Obama initiative has confused the issue. A false narrative implies conflict between humans and technology. “This approach misses the point entirely,” noted Kevin Hendzel, national media spokesman for the Association. “Translation software and human translators simply have different capabilities,” he said. “Software is indispensable for ‘gisting’ – translating large volumes of information in cases where immediate access is more important than accuracy – but only an experienced human language translator has the skill and cultural awareness to convey every nuance when you get it right.”
“The challenge for translation consumers lies in understanding the proper application of each,” Hendzel noted. “Translation software is like a chainsaw. It’s an invaluable tool when you need to chop much wood in a hurry. You need the skill to use it, and surgery is not recommended. When you need precision and sensitivity, you need a human translator. “

Limitations of Software Translation

There are risks in relying on machine translation software such as translation memories. One of these is the tendency to recycle translations. Translation memories can be beneficial for consistency across larger  projects, but they
However, with context considerations, reusing a translated string in a document is almost impossible. This does not mean that every phrase needs to be retranslated. Translators must ensure the most accuracy possible.
The size of a document adds to the complexity of translation. Consequently, professionals pay close attention to the details of all-size projects. At ASTA-USA, every text goes through a 3-step translation, editing, and proofreading process.
Tone and formality are critical in business correspondence, customer service, marketing, and advertising. Therefore, a computer program cannot do this level of accuracy. It requires thought and in-depth knowledge of the source and target culture.

Why Human Translation Reigns Supreme

Clients sometimes ask for a “quick and easy” translation of their documents. It may be because the text seems short, or the subject is pretty straightforward. In professional translation, projects can become quite complicated. Above all, professionals need time allotted for activities such as terminology research and translation revisions.
Professional translators analyze all documents before they commit to a deadline. For example, a short complex text can take as much time to translate as a much longer piece. Professional translation teams draw from their experience to identify potential challenges when establishing timelines.
ASTA-USA Translation Services, Inc. and our team of professional translators complete every project with uncompromised dedication to quality and customer satisfaction.