The many different languages spoken across the globe, although wondrous, has been a meddlesome business when it comes to communication. Removing the barriers to communication has been greatly impacted by rapid development in the tech world, especially on the translation scene. Although we don’t yet have the wonders of a fish in our ear to translate everything for us, there are quite a few software options out there that work almost as good for the average translator/novice. These software options that are just good enough to help us translate long texts, but not good enough to remove the human aspect from the equation entirely (phew).
So, if it’s not a talking fish in your ear, how does translation software work?
Like most computer programmes, the software does what you tell it to do, by building a vast database of equivalent translations for words or phrases in the target language from your input and then spitting it out when you insert a text in the source language. This seems pretty neat, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, it’s not all that simple. A good translation tool can only translate words and phrases according to your specifications, but it cannot translate meaning or emotion – that’s a job for a human translator.
Why use machine translation then? And why is it important to me, the reader?
Although machines are not that great at doing human things, it does make things a lot easier for the human. Not only for translation professionals, but also for people that seek the help of a translation tool (human or machine) to help them with communication and understanding. We’re not all Arthur Dents floating around in the universe being exposed to strange languages, but every so often, we want to know what something in another language means and that’s where translation tools come in.
The only thing you need to know now, is which tool helps for which translation need.
There are hundreds, if not thousands of machine translation tools out there. If you’re looking for a tool that can translate large documents that often have the same content and terms in it, you can use tools like Babylon or Wordfast (currently the best and most-used) that makes use of translation memory that is stored from previously translated texts or crowd assistance. It will be necessary to still use a copyeditor to check the translation for any mistakes, but it will definitely make the translation process much easier.
For the novices among us that don’t need fancy-smancy software for bulk translation, Google Translate and Skype Translator has your back. Thanks to an amazing update by Google, their translate app can translate from a picture. No longer will you stand around in a foreign country making choo-choo noises to find the train station, simply use your camera to translate from a picture and get there without offending a local with your gestures.
Machine translation is a wonderful technological advancement in communication and has managed to solve many issues in terms of this, but we are far from replacing the value of a human translator with a machine translator. It will definitely make your life easier, but it won’t solve all your problems.
If you’re looking for a good translation that leaves no space for communication errors; hire a human translator. It’s not as exciting as a talking fish in your ear, but it’s cool enough.
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