What is machine translation?

What is Machine Translation?

What is machine translation?

As companies scale across the globe at a much faster pace and technology becomes increasingly more intelligent, the number of people turning to machine translation-powered solutions for their translation needs is steadily growing.

Machine translation uses artificial intelligence to translate copy—an innovation that has taken off significantly, with the machine translation market valued at USD 153.8 million in 2020, and expected to reach USD 230.67 million by 2026. 

This doesn’t mean that machines are now doing all the work. Often, machine translation is used alongside human translators to allow for a faster process without compromising on quality. But it’s still not that simple; it can be tricky to identify whether machine translation is a viable option, as it will largely depend on the type of content and the objective. Old-fashioned human expertise will very much remain a core part of the process. 

So, how does this technology actually work, how reliable is it, and when should we be using it? This blog explores all this and more. Let’s get started. 

Machine translation: the basics 

By definition, machine translation in its rawest form is the process of fully automating the translation process from one language to another without any human assistance. While this is by no means a perfect science, the software has advanced tremendously over the past few years (and even months!) and is only expected to continue improving. 

Today machine translation can be used across a number of different fields, for example in technical, legal, marketing and HR—provided the language combination and type of content are viable. And, of course, raw machine translation (content that has been translated by a machine and not yet proofed by a human translator) can be helpful to gain a quick understanding of something. There will be mistakes and errors of course, but you’ll have the general gist. 

Machine translation

Human involvement in machine translation 

As mentioned earlier, machine translation is reliable and safe when reviewed by human professionals. While AI can measure how much effort it requires to post-edit a certain content type and language combination, humans do a much better job at identifying whether a piece of content is better suited to machine translation, human translation alone, or even transcreation (the more creative approach to translation where there is the most deviation from the source).  

For projects that fit the bill for machine translation, this evaluation happens first. Once machine-translated, the content is then reviewed by a human professional. This is called ‘post-editing’. It’s beneficial that post-editors have specific training on machine translation in order to efficiently work with this kind of content, as it requires a different set of skills to your standard translation service.  

The amount of human involvement required for machine translation entirely depends on the content you are dealing with. However, human effort can be reduced by training engines to recognise and work with your specific data. You can also use automatic quality estimation tools to predict how much human time will be used for a certain project, so you can organise and budget accordingly.  

The benefits of machine translation

The obvious benefits of machine translation are speed and volume. You can get a lot more translated in a shorter space of time than if you opt for a purely human effort. But there’s more to it than just producing speedy results. 

This technology can also help with translating what we call ‘time-boxed’ content, such as social media, support tickets, or user-generated content and reviews. Essentially, things that need producing or translating super fast. 

It can also be an option for those with a restricted budget. Machine translation is less expensive than human translation―just be sure you have someone on-hand to proof any external or business-critical content afterwards.  

When should I use machine translation? 

A few years ago, the human editing effort to correct mistranslations, grammatical errors and untranslated words was much higher for machine-translated content. Only a few language pairs were covered and a few engines were available. Machine translation was exclusively for very large pieces of content and trained engines. The artificial intelligence that goes into machine translations today, however, is now much more language-savvy.  

So, how do you know if your content is a good candidate for machine translation? For the most part, simple and structured texts work best. If all you need in the first instance is a basic understanding of the content, we can produce a fast machine-translated version for you, from which you can still decide whether an additional human layer is needed. 

If you need to translate communications, websites and product information in a fast and cost-efficient way, a machine translation solution can reduce hassle for both you and your stakeholders, especially when you work with an agency, like Comtec, that can also offer you expert human translators who make sure any delivered content is correct and brand-aligned.

The key to unlocking machine translation is understanding how and where it fits in your overall process. We can help you decide which kind of translation service you need based on your requirements, budget and content, whether that’s machine translation, human translation or transcreation. 

A final note…

At Comtec, we follow an approved localisation spectrum that helps us make solid decisions on which services and technologies are the most effective and efficient for you. 

We have the tools to support you with any kind of content, whether that’s motivational targeted content, such as slogans and taglines, creative texts like brochures and blog posts, or high-volume content like e-commerce or legal assets. The key is to pair your content with the right kind of translation service.

And, while we’re stressing the continued importance of a human touch, we can also offer a full range of cultural services to ensure your content navigates the complexities of cultural nuance and lands the way you want it to across your chosen global locations.  

If you want to find out how we can support you either through machine translation, cultural intelligence, or our other range of services, get in touch with a member of our friendly team today. We’d be happy to help! 

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