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Human translation versus machine translation tools: Are human translators using them? A translator survey

Human translation versus machine translation tools: Are human translators using them? A translator survey
human translation
(Last Updated On: August 15, 2019)

With technology advancing at light speed these days we see more and more that, in various industries, humans have been replaced by machines which are quite a lot faster and more precise at repetitive tasks. There are industries where machines aren’t ready to take on human’s work, and one of those is the translation industry. There have been numerous articles on this, including our own Is Google Translate helpful in translations, where we have asked our translators if they use this tool and if it’s going to replace human translators, yet we’ve decided to create another survey for our translators and asked them if they are using machine translation tools and how human translation is affected by the introduction of such tools.

Human translation vs machine translation tools

So, here it goes: human translation versus machine translation tools. Are human translators using such tools in their daily work? Over 200 translators gracefully responded to our survey and the results are quite interesting.

translator survey about cat tools

The survey

We’ve decided to consider 3 types of machine translation tools:

  • Online tools: Google Translate, which is probably one of the best stand-alone tools you can use online or as an app on all smartphones;
  • A combination of CAT tools and machine translation: SDL Free Translation
  • Built-in translation tool: Microsoft Word Translator

Although there are numerous other machine translation tools, the above have been chosen from different categories as being the most-representative for each category. Since human translators are usually working with documents, they may find a built-in tool to be more useful as the translator doesn’t have to copy/paste bits of text into an online tool for instance. SDL Free Translation has been chosen as a representative for its category where machine translation is combined with the advantages of computer assisted translation tools.

Following are the questions we have sent to our translators along with their answers. Click any of the images below for their larger versions.

Are human translators familiar with such tools?

Some say that human translators hate machine translation tools, and sometimes with good reasons. Anticipating a bit, some of the replies we’ve got from our translators indicated that the linguists would rather translate from scratch instead of editing a pre-translation or a translation done by a machine.

While we believe linguists would be the most familiar people to translation tools, a large part of our team decided to pass on the survey because they don’t use such tools. However, from the ones who took the survey, it looks like they are fairly familiar with all 3 tools, with the most-known one being Google Translate.

machine translation tools
which tools do you use

Which tools are mostly used?

To understand this question an explanation is required. There are two types of human translation:

  • Normal translation, where the linguists are using text editors and dictionaries to translate;
  • Computer assisted translation, where the translator is using specialized tools which (despite public belief) help the translator in his work by indicating repetitive text and using past human translation in current projects. This does not mean that the translation is done by the machine as a pre-translation, it is just a way to help translators in their tasks.

By the looks of it, although the previous question indicated that Google Translate is the most-known tool, it is also the less-used one. Translators are either using Microsoft Word Translator (most-probably as a dictionary) or SDL Free Translation as a way to speed up the process and deal effectively with repetitions.

Are machine translation tools used to speed up the work?

Now here’s the first contradiction we see in the results. While half the translators are sometimes using machines in order to speed up their work, the other half isn’t using technology. At first glance you may find this a bit weird, when it actually isn’t. Some linguists don’t want to use such tools, others may not know how to use them to their advantage, and some projects are not fitted to be used with such tools. Let’s take small documents, like personal documents. When certified translation for small documents is needed, there is no point in using technology assistance as the documents are up to 200 words and there are no real benefits in using memories with this type of translation.

Some of the notes we considered worth quoting:

  • As a dictionary, to find alternative translations
  • Terminology confirmation
  • As a thesaurus
  • At times, I use them only for some technical terminology
  • Because many translation agencies require sdl trados and actually help us to correct mistakes
  • Occasional quick translation of a a word or phrase but they are often very wrong – translation makes no sense
  • I use google translate as a dictionary to know the meaning of some words in certain context
  • I only use Termium Plus, Linguee, dictionary, my skills, the context, my judgment
  • I don’t use them. They are a waste of time
  • I don’t think machine translators are reliable at all. They do not consider the context, they perform a translation that can be completely misleading
  • To find other possible translations/wordings when I get stuck on something
  • Only for private use, since Google Translate is not reliable and makes lots of mistakes
speed up work
Is Microsoft Word Translator useful

Are translation tools a threat for human translators?

Human translation is considered the best as usually machines don’t take into account the context or various meanings of words, resulting in more or less of a mess instead of a translation. Surely, humans are prone to mistakes too, and that is the reason why we use an extra linguist to proofread the translation.

But, without jumping to conclusions just yet, it looks like our linguists are not considering automated tools a threat. Are we done yet? No, in fact, there are quite a few more questions we’re asked our professional translators.

editing machine translation

Did you already receive machine translations from translation agencies that you were requested to edit? Did you accepted them?

Some translation agencies are trying to speed up the work and try to use cheap or free machine translation tools in order to produce something that is called a pre-translation. Human translators are then requested to edit such translations. We were wondering if our translators have accepted such projects in the past and if not, why not.

SDL Free Translation

Here are some comments from our translators you may find interesting:

  • I would not accept machine translation if the work was translated from Japanese or Chinese because MT is not yet sophisticated enough to make work quicker.
  • There is usually too much to correct or re-translate for less money than for translating.
  • The text is always garbage and the client is always cheap on these jobs.
  • I do not accept machine translations for editing but I do for translating. Machine translations are very bad translations.
  • MT quality was bad. It was faster to translate it by myself from scratch.
  • I used to, but now always decline them, because it is always more work to edit a machine translation than it is to translate from scratch, and for much less pay.
  • No grammar, no real meaning/sense of the source into target. Especially when it comes to special field as technical, CNC, medical, etc.
  • They take more time than translating from a written original source, thus pay a LOT less than translations. I also never buy a product when adds in newspapers or online are visibly machine translated – they are an insult to me as a consumer.
  • They take so much time to correct that it often would take less effort to translate it from scratch than have some machine come up with a totally weird translation.
  • I have no interest in correcting the mistakes of an algorithm that is notoriously unreliable, especially if the client doesn’t include the source text for comparison. The client should have hired a human to do the translation in the first place.
  • Machine translations are so poor that it is more job correcting them than translating from scratch.
human translators

Are there any differences between the 3 tools? Are there any other tools being used?

Obviously, there are differences between the 3 machine translation tools we’ve selected. One is simply a machine translator, another is a CAT tool combined with MT and the third is simply a thesaurus option in Word documents. Surprisingly, 54.77% of the translators didn’t differentiate between them, and that is because they mostly do human translation and only use such tools when they need to cross check words or look for synonyms.

other tools

Human translators and their thoughts on machine translation tools

Is human translation going to disappear in the future with so many machine translation tools popping up? Will human translators remain with no work? Let’s see what our linguists have to say about this.

  • Not a threat necessarily, but the role of the translators will probably change in the future where they will be more of editors/reviewers. Hence, they will have to adapt to their new roles and positions, the idea of what means to be a translator, and the ones that are not able to do so might see this as a threat. But, I also believe that some genres such as literary will take a very long time before they will be able to be translated by a machine. Thus, the traditional role of a translator will still be present in some amount for quite some time.
  • At the moment it makes things a lot easier and faster. Machine translation has improved quite a bit over the years but if it can really replace a human will have to be seen – especially in literary translation.
  • Any machine translated text I’ve seen was pure garbage, and I’ve seen quite a few. MT is far from reliable.
  • I would rather translate the text for free than to edit something translated by Google Translate, especially in my language combination.

While we won’t draw any conclusion from the human translation versus machine translation tools battle, if you need highly accurate, human translation services get in touch. We’ll give you just that, at a price you will love!

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