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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Machine Translation: Friend or Foe For Human Translators?

Machine translation has a negative echo in many human translators’ ears. Many professional translators are afraid that as machine translation gets better and better, less and less human work is required and human translators might eventually lose their jobs.

Please consider this example. In the early 1900 car had just been invented. It was a new, exclusive technology. Car’s were difficult to manufacture and they were very expensive. What happened when Henry Ford developed ways to manufacture cars more efficiently and cheaply? One could think that some auto-workers lost their jobs because less people were required to manufacture a car. Instead, the opposite happened. The number of auto-workers increased dramatically because, thanks to more efficient and cheaper production, more and more people could now afford a car. Earlier middle or low income people had no chance of buying a car. When the car prices had sunk suddenly a lot of people could afford to buy a car and, in fact, actually bought one.

Now compare the professional translator’s situation to auto-worker’s situation. What will happen to professional translators when machine translation is making their work more effective? Will the professional translators lose their jobs? Or will the same happen with translators as with auto-workers in early 1900, when more and more companies and even private persons can really afford to buy translation and buying translation is becoming so easy in internet?