unskilled translation vs machine translation

Man is a wolf to man. Like they say. In the translation industry also machines are bringing additional tension. Unskilled translation service providers and machine translation services are a threat to the traditional professions of translating and interpreting. Let’s examine what these factors really mean to the industry.

Unskilled translators are the first threat. The reason for this is that translating seems simple. If you can talk and understand the language, it may feel like you know how to translate too. Translators basically change words from one language to another, right? Well, that’s not true. Translating isn’t easy and we all can’t do it no matter how many languages we can speak. Translating requires knowledge of culture, values and nuances. Thus professional translators are well educated and to guarantee the best quality of their work most of them are even specialized in a certain area, such as medical, commercial or technical translations. Those who know the most know that they don’t know it all.

Today when the translation industry operates mostly online over the Internet, there are many people trying to make a living as a translator. The challenge to the industry is that translation buyers may not see (or care) which languages service providers are professionals. The unprofessional translators compete often with price what distorts the price image of the industry. Furthermore, also the quality image may be harmed by the unskilled translators. Occasional good quality doesn’t require a degree but constant good quality often does.

The second threat is automation with machine translation. Machine translation is so available that for most people it is the easiest way to translate something. Although machine translation quality is improving rapidly, it is unlike that a machine would constantly reach the quality level of a professional translation anytime soon. Today at its best, machine translation is able to produce fairly good quality that is good enough for some situations. It is one solution to the language barriers that are causing information inequality to the world.

The increasing use of machine translation is challenging the industry. Professional translators can’t translate everything due to limited time and human capabilities. So on one hand it’s good that machines are increasing the translation capacities.  On the other hand there’s a risk that translation buyers get so used to machine translation that they start overusing it to material that would need a professional translation. That could lead to serious mistranslations and spreading of wrong information.

Both unskilled translators and machine translation have an influence on the industry. Which one you think is a bigger threat to the translation industry? Or neither one? Please feel free to leave a comment below.