User Manual Is a Challenge, Foreign-Language User Manual Is a Nightmare

Let’s play with the thought of you having a fancy new technical equipment. It can be a digital camera, a mobile phone, a PDA or some other machine with many features. You have probably bought that ‘thing’ because you want to do something with it. Like almost always with high-tech, you may end up in a situation where you don’t have a clue how to do something you want with that gadget.

So what would you do when you don’t know how to use the new machine? Trying your luck by pushing different buttons is a potential option. I admit that this is usually the first choice for me. Sometimes it is the easiest way but the outcome of random clicking is unsure. No one wants to mess up or break a totally new tool. Thus it might be the best to just open the heavy user manual. Luckily nowadays those manuals are almost always available in digital format, like in PDF files, and ‘find’-command can be used to scan the document.

What would you do if the user manual ”sólo habla español” or “puhuu vain suomea”? Not an easy situation specially if you are in a hurry to find a solution to your problem. If the manual is digitally available in PDF format which is widely established format for product information, it could be reasonable to translate the PDF document with an automatic translator to be able to understand something from the manual. PDF translators are developing constantly, and more and more attention is given to the quality of machine translation. Even today the quality is good enough for understanding the meaning of the text. Thanks to global online markets, foreign-language manuals are more and more common.

Unfortunately, no matter how good the translation is, it doesn’t fully guarantee that you would be able to understand the manual. There is still the common user manual issue of too complex expressions and difficult sentence structures. User manuals have truly earned their reputation of not being so reader-friendly documents. Too often one would desperately need a translator from technical “engineer language” to spoken language, right?


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Machine Translation – What It Is?

Translated Machine Translator

Machine translation refers to a piece of text which have been written again from one language into another language by a machine. Nowadays the term ‘machine’ is usually the same as computer in this context. Because, unlike Thomas Watson, the chairman of IBM at that time, famously stated in 1943, computers have become the most important tools in many aspects of human life and because machine translation is relatively new term, it is useful to explain the concept a little more.

Practically speaking, machine translations are made with the help of an existing translation memory. This kind of memory can be a lot of things, but basically it is a file containing the same text written in more than one languages. For example any electronic dictionary can be used as a translation memory. Machine translator then uses the memory as a source for translations. This evidently leads to the situation where the more comprehensive the translation memory the better the translation quality.

Computers can perform machine translation with or without an Internet connection. Perhaps the most known online machine translation provider is Google with its free Google Translate -service. Online machine translation can utilize online translation memory while offline machine translators must have their own memory. Both of these methods have their pros and counts: online memory can be very huge and automatically updated, but at the same time they are public and no one can really control them. Offline memories on the other hand can be strictly controlled by the user but they have to be manually collected and updated.

This was a very short overview of machine translation. If you want to take a deeper look at the world of machine translation, you can read the article in Wikipedia for example.

How would you define the term ‘machine translation’?

Using Machine Translation Is Like Driving a Car

I like to compare machine translation to driving a car. We all know how convenient and useful it is to travel to various places with a car. And many of us can and have a license to drive a car. Driving a car is a skill that has to be learned. When one has learned to drive a car, it is easy and useful to use the skill. But driving has some crucial limitations. Even when one can drive a car well, it is not possible to drive with the car anywhere, for example in the forest or from Europe to Australia or to the Moon. One has to stay on the road and on the solid soil. The situation is very similar with machine translation. One must know when and how machine translation can be used.

Machine translation is not a turnkey solution to all possible translation problems. One must know when machine translation can be used and especially how it should be used. For example, if you expect a computer to translate literature perfectly from one language to another you will surely be disappointed. But if you want to communicate simple matters to another language you might be positively surprised.

I would like to emphasize that machine translation is potentially a very effective tool that must be used correctly. Like a car, you must first learn how to drive it and where you can drive with it. Same applies to machine translation. Luckily, using machine translation is far, far easier to learn than driving a car.