Good translator or bad translator, that's the question.Machine translation is both an enemy and a friend; the bad ass and the best friend in the same package. At least this is the impression what you get from the online writings about automatic translation. The topic is still such a hot potato that people do have strong opinions and they are willing to share those ideas with the whole world.

This may be a bit too pointedly said to, but the split between defenders and opponents is quite clear. Most professional (human) translators or interpreters dislike (or even hate) every machine translator. They seem to think that the quality of any machine translated text is poor. For them machine translation is an enemy which is stealing their jobs. On the other side are all the instances who are searching for cheap translations. For them machine translation is a treasure which translates everything, anytime and for free. They are rationalising that “any translation is better than no translation, right?”

Surprisingly, in any situation when there is a translation error, it doesn’t matter anymore which side you belong to. Machine translation is (more or less) the one to blame for every mistake. Professional translators think that none of their colleagues are able to make such mistakes, and those who use machine translation and know its weaknesses think there is an universal correlation between low price and low quality.

However, the fact is that anyone can start a translation service and call oneself a translator. This doesn’t automatically mean that these translators would (intentionally) produce worse translations, but it does mean that their skills, motivation or work ethics might be different. Human beings also tend to make mistakes every now and then.

Still, machine translators get all the negative publicity over and over again. The situation is as bizarre as the following quote from TranSlate Translations -blog discussing about a serious translation mistake on a drug package:

“It was evident that this was an automatic translation that was never reviewed or corrected. – – – In addition, whatever software they have used, was just laying the translations literally and literally wrong. – – – Even Google got the whole translation 98% right!”

The author of the blog is basically saying that the awful Spanish translation must be an automatic translation and that the most used machine translator was able to translate it correctly. To me this statement sounds more than conflicting: A machine translator translated the text almost flawlessly, but still there have to be a machine translator behind the bad translation. I don’t see the rationale here.

Maybe the pharmaceutical lab didn’t use machine translation, maybe someone in the company did the translation, maybe they used the cheapest human translator they found, maybe the first draft ended up accidentally on the package, etc. There really are million other options besides the machine translation scenario.

It is true that machine translators make mistakes, but the point is that no one should be judged without evidence. It’s good to remember that there are even worse alternatives than a bad machine translator. Namely, a human being who thinks he knows the language after 2 months of language studies as a hobby and one week vacation in the country. Right?

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