7th June 2012
A machine translation is any translation which has been put into a computer to decipher instead of using an actual human being to convert the languages. Most people have at some point used a machine translator on the internet to find out what a word or sentence means in another language or to covert what they want to say into another language.
Machine translation has come quite far in the last several years. At one point we were lucky if they would get even just one word correct and in the right context. Some of the older machine translators, including the handheld ones, had the translation for certain words or phrases built into them. However if you put in much more than a single sentence, the machine would come up with something completely nonsensical.
One of the first principle of machine programming is “GIGO”, Garbage In, Garbage Out. This means that if the computer does not understand the command that has been put into it, then it is impossible to get the desired result out of it.
The solution to this was to program into the machine translators as many words, phrases, sentences and paragraphs as possible. This is a task that would obviously take quite some time, even just from one language to another.
Internet machine translators such as Google Translator, have become much better. Instead of using a couple of programmers to enter in the translations from an entire language to another, nowadays they let the users of the translator choose what is the most appropriate translation. The most popular choice for the translator chosen by the users is the one that gets to stay. Quite a time saving and cost effective way to do it.
However, what machine translators do not take into account is the fact that many things do not translate directly into another language. It can be difficult to translate certain things and the best substitute and its meaning often have to be shown by human translators. There are also cultural differences in languages that a machine just cannot detect. The literal translation of one language to another can and often does end up meaning something completely different.
Humans are also infinitely better at being able to detect the context in what is written and are able to translate accordingly. A machine is limited by only being able to translate into the one word or phrase that has been programmed into it instead of knowing that the same thing can have many different meanings. Humans also have the ability to localise the translation to a particular region. We all know a translation to UK English would be quite a bit different to US English.
Here at Prime Languages we support both machine and human translations. We want to see machines get to a point were they can perfectly detect and translate languages in context. It will be just one more thing which brings the world closer together. Until that day comes we will have to rely on the excellent translation skills of our brothers and sisters working in the field.