Are we human? Machine versus human translation

ARE we human? Or is it the name of a song?

We’re often asked if machine versus human translation can be used, and a recent job with a client brought home to us how easily things can go wrong when using machine translation.

We’ve all be there: who has never been tempted to do a quick search for a word we have forgotten and we really need now.

For example, I have done five years of Spanish at school - even had a penfriend - and I cannot, for the life of me, remember how to say "chair" and I really need an extra chair in this packed Spanish restaurant.

A quick Google search and ah, yes, that’s it "silla", finishing with an "a" so it must be feminine, I am sorted.

Or, I really fancy those pains au chocolat but have no idea where to find a bakery.

I did do French at school and dated a French guy/girl for a few months but the word does not come back to me ... mobile search ... here we are, of course. "Boulangerie"!

I can now find those delicious French pains au chocolat I have been craving.

We have all been there, all done it and to be honest, we are still alive, nothing major has happened.

Where machine versus human translation failed

It can get more complicated however.

When you have spent a few thousand pounds getting a state-of-the-art touchscreen system in 19 languages for your visitors, would you really look up a missing word on Google?

Surely not.

Bemused, amused, angry… how did a part of the human body end up on of these exclusive brand new screens, how do we have in French "dos" showing?

It all started with a small memory lapse, the IT person forgot to give the translation company one word, one tiny weeny little word.

The word "back" to go back on the touch screen to access the information you have just seen.

Oops, this word was needed to complete this project.

A quick Google Translate won’t hurt anyone and no one will ever notice that I forgot to give that to the translation agency.

If you type the word "back" in Google and select "French" you get as a translation the word "dos".

"I’m sorted," thought the IT person; the job is done, complete and beautiful.

No! It is where you do not use machine translation, even one small word.

When you have spent a few weeks putting together this beautiful project and spent a few pounds on getting the language correct: you send it all to a professional (human) agency who will have it translated (by humans) and proofread by another professional translator (human too).

Would you really Google translate the lease of a house you are intending to buy in Spain, or a medical report if you broke your leg in France and needed your doctor back home to know what was broken?

Surely not. This is the way it should be, we are after all not machines yet, but wholly and truly still humans… for a little while anyway.

So to answer the question of machine versus human translation … when investing in a language to sell your business, human always wins.