Machine Translation and Usability: Blessing or Curse?

Some will say that the postmodern days of the machine translation (MT) era might have brought along a lot more options when it comes to fulfilling clients’ needs. Others would dare argue that these so-called options might be considered more of a vice than a blessing.

We’ve pondered several times before about the main drivers in the translation industry, and how the natural balance forces us to neglect either a combination of time, quality and cost in favor of being able to increase the main driver to the max. But as we already know, all three elements of this “holy trinity” of an ideal production model cannot be fully maximized to achieve unrealistic client expectations.

Being a fast-paced growing industry, where time is mostly always of the essence, cost and quality are usually left aside to quarrel amongst themselves to see who gets kicked out of the equation first. Quality, being a refined and sophisticated gentleman of cultivated tastes is often ravaged and easily beaten into a pulp (his poor stylish monocle cracked into pieces on the ground) by the vicious needs that most clients have for lower expected and affordable costs.

And here is where machine translation has facilitated this scenario for the birth of “usability,” quality’s ugly intellectually-challenged cousin.

I mean, I’m all up for being practical when there’s a need to, or when a specific goal has to be achieved within a certain amount of time. But, it still has to be accomplished with care and mastery, with respect for the craft and the users who will be reading the output material we will produce. And, I can assure you that it can be done in a cost-effective way given the right tools and with professionals involved in the process.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting or needing an output product to be simple and strictly “usable” in order to cut corners during its production process. It may be easier to apply and understand when it comes to physical production (like using plastic instead of metal when possible), but when meaning and communication in different languages are involved, the risks of the output material being actually “usable” are considerably higher and demand more care and attention.

I mean, we’ve had countless requests from numerous clients in the past who show up with very low quality “pre-translated” documents under their arms, asking for nothing but a “usable” output material for them to publish or print out within a very limited time frame. In most cases, where free machine translation software has been used, the results are so painfully dreadful that they would make most faithfully departed and respected linguists turn in their graves, while sending those who are still alive to an early, probably self-inflicted, demise.

In such cases we are strongly compelled to advise a re-translation from scratch, which costs the client more resources and time, which they almost never have to spare.

So, what should clients keep in mind to avoid these types of scenarios?

Well, first of all, if you’re going to use MT, make sure you use a decent enough engine. Google Translate has a respectable free and accessible tool at everyone’s disposal, but their company also offers better, more developed options for a reasonable price. And, they also have Cloud AutoML in its beta testing stage!

Never forget that being cheap can be utterly costly in the long run.

In the case you are looking for something cost-effective and professionally polished, Trusted Translations has it all. Stay tuned for a more thorough rundown of usability and machine translation’s role in the next post.