With the increasing popularity of online machine translations, one question that is increasingly being asked is this: Will there be a time when human translators become obsolete?
Having worked as a translator for a few years, I have had some experience using online machine translations. Let me answer this question with a confident NO! I will explain why below.
Firstly, the key reason why machine translations work badly is because they do not understand ‘context’. While humans intuitively understand what this means, ‘context’ is a difficult word to explain properly. Teaching it to a machine, or writing it into a programme, is consequently fraught with difficulties. For those with some background in IT and programming, a common way to do so, is to search the words before and words after in order to figure out the correct translation (think optimization or probability), but this method is still not too accurate and more often a case of ‘hit-and-miss’. As anyone who works long enough with languages know, there are all sorts of exceptions with regards to the rules of any language, let alone translating into another language. How to optimize and increase the accuracy of such a procedure is currently a matter of intense research.
Hence, we find that translations work fairly well for singular words used generally, where context is not so critical. On the other hand, translations of whole sentences leave much to be desired.
The source language and target language also greatly affect the accuracy of translation. Since English is the most common source language (and also target language) of translation, let me use this language to illustrate my point. From my experience, I have found that if the target language is an “anglicized” language (like German, Malay, French, Spanish, etc), the translations tend to work better.
However, if we translate into “non-anglicized” languages (like Chinese, Japanese, Korean, etc), we often find that the translations do not make much sense. This has to do with the fact that the structures of such languages vary quite differently from English and most translation programmes were first written primarily to translate between European languages, not to mention that most European languages are rooted in Latin.
In conclusion and to reiterate the question posed: Will there be a time when human translators become obsolete? My answer is a resolute NO!
PS: All opinions expressed above reflect the views of the writer only and do not in any way represent the views of Whizwordz International. While all due care and attention have been made with regards to the content, the writer cannot be held responsible for any inaccuracy or factual error.