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Why Machine Translation Will Never Replace Human Interpreters

– Posted in: Translators
Foreign Dictionary Learning Languages Translation

Machine translation has come a long way over the past few years, to the point where students are now habitually using Google’s translation services to help with foreign language homework. The results of these machine translations have been getting increasingly accurate, as the programme ‘learns’ more about words and their context. Yet, while the technology is improving drastically, it is still not good enough to take over the role of expert translations from human beings, and it never will be.

This is because, when it comes to translations, there are still a few things that humans will always be able to do better than machines:

  1. Machines can’t pick up on nonverbal communication
  2. While machines can be accurate when translating word-for-word, or even phrase-for-phrase, this still only takes into account the verbal aspect of communication. A whopping 93% of communication is nonverbal, which marks a huge portion of conversation which cannot be read by technology. This hidden part of communication can be found in tone of voice and body language, which is overlooked in machine translation.

    For example, machines are less likely to pick up on jokes or sarcasm, which could result in translations that are far too literal. Having someone available to pick up on these slight changes gives a more accurate translation, which is far beneficial for your interpreting and translating needs.

  3. Machine translation is slower than human translation
  4. Machine translation works by using artificial intelligence, and offering the most likely translation of a string of words and phrases, based on a series of complex algorithms. The technology for instant translation is being developed, such as the Pilot earpiece; however, according to its makers at Waverly Labs, these machines will still feature a delay of a few seconds.

  5. It’s much more difficult to localise machines and apps for all languages
  6. Depending on the dialect, new phrases are constantly being developed in any language. Machines are much less likely to pick up on these evolutions in language as immediately as human translators, who will be experts on the different dialects and localisation of their specialist language. A machine will have to be kept up to date with the language by constantly ‘learning’ new phrases, based on how often new words (or words in new contexts) come up in conversations before can find a suitable translation.

    Human translators and interpreters are able to pick up on these developments in language much more quickly than machines. There may also be times when there is no appropriate translation for a particular phrase, which could leave the machine “speechless” as it struggles to find a way to interpret these unfamiliar combinations of words.

  7. Machines need specific instructions, and may still malfunction
  8. While we rely on technology now more than ever before, it’s important to remember that machines are still prone to stop working altogether; following specific sets of instructions to get to the end result, and learning user behaviour over time does not prevent issues from arising. Much like a SatNav accidentally navigating cars in the wrong direction, machine translators still have the potential to inaccurately interpret your copy, leaving you with mixed messages.

  9. Face-to-face communication helps build lasting relationships
  10. In this modern-day digital age, technology has made almost every aspect of our lives more convenient. But ultimately, face-to-face communication has more advantages, including establishing more meaningful relationships between individuals. Speaking to someone directly has been proven to build and establish trust, which is key to a lasting relationship, both in a professional and personal context.

    Relying on machines can block this bridge from being built, leaving trust dependent on how reliable the technology is. While machine translation can bring people together, it lacks that ‘personal touch’ that is crucial for building a meaningful relationship.

    Machine translation has come a long way in a short space of time, however it still lacks certain aspects that will make it an effective translation tool for day-to-day and business use. Human translators and interpreters are much more effective and reliable, and the ‘personal’ aspect will always beat technology.

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