In Machine Translation Post-editing Quality Can Be Traded for Productivity

In association with Kites, Finnish machine translation experts and enthusiasts have formed Special Interest Group for machine translation in Finland. In one meeting we handled a hot subject of post-editing machine translations. Post-editing means that a professional translator checks and edits automatic translations which are made by a machine. The interesting topic with excellent presentations (one made by Jukka Outinen of Lionbridge and another by freelance translator Tommi Nieminen) sparked a lively discussion.

Machine translation post-editing can be efficient.One of the ideas highlighted during the meeting was that in traditional translation by a professional translator, it does not make much sense to lower one’s quality requirements. It does not improve productivity. A professional translator cannot choose to “write bad translations”. With professional translators, the style and fluency of the text come together with the translation. However, the situation is different when post-editing machine translations.

In post-editing machine translations it can make sense to lower quality requirements because that indeed improves productivity. When the task is to post-edit an automatic translation, the translator can choose not to correct those parts of the machine translation that are correct but written in a clumsy language. Thus the translator saves some time at the expense of the quality. Therefore, in post-editing machine translations the quality can indeed be traded for productivity.

This naturally changes the translation market. Clients can now choose between lower and higher quality, depending on his requirements and budget. Affordable, quick and good enough translations made by a machine and a man together are fulfilling the scale of available translation services. An increase in productivity will enlarge the entire translation industry.


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Why Do We Need Translations While We Have English?

It looks like English is the global lingua franca or even the language of the Universe. It’s quite easy to get the idea that everybody speaks English: even Asterix or Cleopatra or creatures from other galaxies. So, when everyone understands English, why does the profession of a translator exist? Continue reading Why Do We Need Translations While We Have English?

Translators Need More Than Just Language Skills

This article is originally published at

Translation work is not the same as it used to be. Today translators need to have many kinds of skills just to meet the common requirements of the industry. The days when language skills were enough are history now. This development may sound too much for some translators, but the example of innovative translators shows that it’s up to the attitude. It’s not a threat, it’s an opportunity. The list of useful translator skills includes at least the following:

Technology skills – The ability to read and write have been default skills for translators. (An exception proves the rule also in this case.) Nowadays writing and reading is done mostly on screen. Thus every translator need to know how to use a computer and all the included translation tools. There are several programs designed for editing, writing, collecting, saving and sending which help and ease a translator’s work. When used correctly, translation memories, machine translators and translation editors can help translators to work more efficiently and profitable. In addition software translation and localization set their own challenges to translators’ technical skills. However some tools ease the translators’ work. For example, Multilizer localization tools reduce the need for deep technical skills.

Virtual communication skills – Online working is a big trend also in translation world. The ability to use online translator tools is important, but virtual working asks for other kind of abilities, too. Online working can be extremely lonely. It is possible to work without seeing or meeting other project participants. Communication through online methods, like e-mail, Skype, chat, message boards etc, can be problematic due to the different time zones, languages or cultures. To avoid any possible misunderstandings, one should pay attention to online communication style. Likewise all the instructions and other materials should be written carefully. Unclear communication and imprecise instructions can lead to many questions which can lengthen the project remarkably, especially when the project participants are located on different sides of the globe.

Working skills – Virtual working environment challenges translators old working methods and habits. It is totally different to translate a full-length novel than a small smart phone application. While the availability to hire a translator has expanded within the virtual revolution, the size of a translation project can be anything starting from only a few words. This trend also applies to the duration of the project: smaller project take less time. Today translators’ work can be very fragmented.

Multi-tasking skills – Short-term working usually means that there are several tasks to do at the same time: working on one project, finishing another one, negotiating on next project, searching for new ones etc. Less time will be spent on actual translation. When every project can be different, the translator need to have very flexible attitude towards his or her profession. An open mind on learning new things, can take a long way.

Here we had some important skills for today’s translators. What skills would you add to this list?

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Are Translators Losing Their Jobs Because of Machine Translation?

Quite many professional translators are afraid that they will be replaced by emerging technology: machine translation. Machine translation would take their jobs or at least lower their salaries. I made some Internet searches and found interesting numbers. This article is about how many translators are needed to satisfy the communication needs in the whole world.

Please note that the following calculations and numbers are estimates and intended to give just a rough understanding of the situation.

For one professional translator translating 2000-2500 words per day seems to be quite a normal result (sources: Proz, Tips for Translators). Naturally the speed depends on the language and the translator. But we can use this number to calculate our rough estimates.

On one page there is on average 300-500 words. (source: When we combine this information with the average translation speed we conclude than an average translator can translate roughly 4-9 pages per day. Let’s use the average of 7 pages per day in our estimation.

Estimates of the total number of professional translators in the whole world vary between 150 000 and 300 000 (source: T&I Business).In the world there are currently over 6 900 000 000 people (source: Wikipedia). That is, below 0,005% of us work as professional translators. It is 20 000 people per one translator. To employ one translator 20 000 people (or companies they work for) should buy translation of 7 pages per day.

What do you think, is there enough work for all the translators, considering both the emergence of machine translation technology and that world trade and communication between people via Internet is growing fast?

My personal feeling is that 20 000 people (and the companies they work for) could use a lot more translations that just 7 pages per day. To me it seems there should be plenty of work even for more translators than currently exist. Maybe the prices of translations are preventing translation volumes from growing substantially?