Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Worrying Trend - Using Automated Translation

From the home consumer to the corporate consumer everyone is trying to save money. However cheap, as we have all found out at one time or another, doesn’t go hand in hand with quality. We have all heard the saying “you get what you pay for”. I’ve said this before, in translation you really do.

This latest worrying trend is the use of automated software translation, whether it be internet or machine based, and then asking a “real” translator or translation vendor to edit or finalize it. This is a no win situation. More than likely what you have from these types of translation programs is unusable. Especially depending on the business you are in. Professional translators will not accept the job of trying to edit or fix it as it would be less time and cost intensive to start over from scratch. Wasting all of the money and time you already invested trying this “automated” approach.

We ran into this situation with one of our clients last week. They had a huge document already translated into Arabic (supposedly by an internal resource) and this year they wanted to have us edit some new and revised material this linguist would be adding in an upcoming revision. We asked for a sample of this “translator’s” work and I approached our usual linguists working in this language to give me a quick opinion of the quality. I received some interesting comments, “I will not be able to take part in this project”, “this translation is not going to be able to be edited, it seems that it might be machine translated”, “this translation has incorrect source interpretation and many errors in grammar, spelling, readability, etc.” So we had to turn down this project as I had 3 professional and competent linguists refuse to take it. All saying it was not possible to edit it; it needed to be re-translated.

The client is investigating what type of automation was used, but most translation software and internet based automated translation services are not up to par. Language and translation is based on context. A computer does not understand context. Underlying meanings and inherited understanding needs to be interpreted. And a machine cannot handle this. Language is more nuanced. It has to contain cultural context and even industry jargon.

We have all seen the funny mistranslations pop up on social media. Unfortunately these are true. If a software program can mistranslate something as simple as warning people to stay off of the “newly planted grass”; which software translated as “the little grass is dreaming”, it will surely not understand more technically written material where there may even be many different words for the same thing. And if you are using a web or software based translation tool, you will not get anything understandable in return. So if you include options to automatically translate your site or your material online, also using a type of translation software imbedded in the web site software or adding on an online software tool translation button, it will most likely be garbage.

Finally, software can only translate exactly how the source text is entered. So if there is complicated formatting or even places where there are different line breaks or a return is accidentally found, it will change the whole context of the translation. Electronic translation tools will translate word for word and do not notice if it is grammatically incorrect or incomprehensible as it is written.

If you are going to print or use that material for products and these will be used by customers, you may find yourself spending a ton of money to reprint or even rebrand your product if it is based on a nonsense and incorrect translation. It can even cause a potential customer to wonder whether or not you are a legitimate business.

In the case of our client, they had over 400 pages of an educational report that was mostly incoherent and sounded ridiculous. And this had been distributed to their Arabic speaking clients who did not look favorably upon them or the quality of the material they had distributed. They’ve lost clients and revenue due to this poor image.

You think it’s too expensive and will take too long to hire a “real live” translation vendor using professional human linguists? Wait until you pay for the problems caused by a bad automated one…and have to start over anyway.