Friday, November 5, 2010

Machine translation + Post-editing... Really?

I was going to start blogging by talking about how to start, how to create a CV and a cover letter, etc., but this morning I received one of those LinkedIn e-mails, in which there was an alert about a new post in a forum about translation: Machine translation and human post-editing.
I felt it could be interesting to see what that person wanted to say about machine translation, but my surprise was to find another of those people who think machines may substitute translators in the future, and that giving the translator a machine translation to post-edit actually helps the translator and, therefore, that should be pay with lower rates. I really couldn't leave it there, so I had to reply to that article. Here I will copy what I said in that forum, what do I think about automated/machine translation, and why me and other translators feel beaten up every time we read one of those articles.

And it really scared me that SDL allows something like that to be published, because it might mean that they actually practise that type of translation. I just hope I am wrong.

And this is what I posted in the LinkedIn group where this article was posted:

"I am sorry to disagree, Adriana, but I feel automated translation is an utterly useless tool. I agree with Elena that it seems we are the baddies in this movie, because we just want to do our job, which is delivering quality translations. Machine translations ARE a re-translation, because, at the end of the day, you still have to read the original text and see how close to the machine-translated text is. And believe me, I have done a few of those, and I would be quicker by just translating the text from scratch.

You say that machine translators are made, apart from the "money saving" reason, because there is no time to do proper translations. Well, it takes me the same time to translate a text from zero than reading the crap machine translation, read then the English text and think of which part of the machine-translated text do I need to change. 98% of the times is everything.

It's like when someone asks you: "What does this word mean in your language?" and then they tell you: "Is this X?" And from that point on, you cannot thing. That person has put a word in your mind, and you brain can only think about that word, even though you know is the wrong one. That is the feeling I have sometimes with automated translations.

I am not going to say that they are useless. I use them when they give me a bad English text to translate, which I cannot understand, and then they also give me the French. Being French closer to Spanish, I do an automated translation from French into Spanish to see if, this way, I can understand better what the English says. I do not speak French and I have never learnt French at school. I can tell you, sometimes it gives me an idea, but the result is nowhere near a proper translation, so I always do like a mixture between the translation I understand from the English and what that French translation has given me. Other times, it just confuses me even more, and I end up asking the client to please explain me what they mean with that specific sentence and to make sure the English text makes total sense.

Finally, I am going to give you an easy example.

It's Sunday and your toilet breaks. You don't want to pay the expensive rates of a plumber, so you decide that you can fix it yourself, because "it can't be too difficult". You dismantle the whole system and try to see where the problem is and, after one hour, you decide that you can't fix it. You assemble everything again, as good as you can, because you aren't an expert in plumbing and decide to call the plumber. But you tell him that, because you have already tried to fix the problem, you are going to pay him only a third of the fee, and no Sunday fee at all but a normal weekday fee.

What do you think the plumber will say?

Same will happen with any professional. Do you think a lawyer will reduce the fees he charges you just because you have done half of the research he needed? NO. Is a chemist/Pharmacist giving you a discount if you tell them that you don't need the paper wrapping the medicines or the bag they offer you? NO. Will a restaurant manager give you a discount if you grab the pizza from the over yourself? Probably no (maybe he invites you to an extra glass of wine, but I doubt he will allow you to leave the restaurant paying 1/3 of the bill only). Or imagine something even more puzzling: you need an open-heart surgery and the only clinic that provides that service is a private clinic so, in order to save you some cash, you tell the anesthetist that you will put yourself the anesthetist, and you ask the nurses to leave the premises, because your brother and sister will help out the surgeon. What do you think it would happen?

So, what makes anybody think that translators should be different?

I suppose the case that you expose, in which a company decides to use the MT they have to create a new translation will work in a 2-5% of the cases? I can only think that it can work if you have an MT of a manual of a, let's say, a camera, and they have created a new camera that has only a few updates and the manual is practically the same. Then, yes, this could work. But wouldn't make more sense to just give the translator the MT and ask him to charge the 100% matches at a reduce rate? At the end of the day, maybe the previous translator had a few mistakes in the translation, and the new translator decides that some words need to be changed."

I think machine translations are too little too frequent and are destroying the industry all together. One thing is to use them to just have an idea of what a text reads, but using it as if it was a translation made by a person to then give it to a translator to edit, I think is unfair for us, as professionals, and also an insult to our job and our industry altogether.

Feel free to post a comment with your thought about this.

Thanks for reading.


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Blog under construction

I am getting ready for my leap into the glamorous world of renowned translators. I will share my ideas, frustrations and tips about videogame and software localisation, as well as how to stop the quality assurance (also known as testing) from driving you crazy.
Please, bear with me :)