What do translators think of machine translation?

Marine Esquenet
20 Jan 2022
4 mins
What do translators think of machine translation?
Since the 1950s, Machine Translation (MT) has evolved from rule-based, to statistical to, more recently, Neural MT. In the last 5 years, with the current cutting-edge terminology, multilingual models and MT for languages with less reference material, the results of Neural machine translation have become increasingly fluent and accurate, offering unprecedented linguistic quality. This rapid development and the amount of money invested by companies has pushed it to become an essential part of modern translation strategies.
 
Customers love MT because it allows them to translate more content in less time and on a smaller budget. But what about the translators on the other side of the spectrum? How has MT changed the way they work in this increasingly digital and ever-changing environment, when some of them started out working with just a dictionary and printed paper? Does MT make them feel insecure about the future? Or are they excited about working with new AI tools? We polled 1,600 of our translators to find out their opinion on the topic. Here is a glimpse of some of their responses - which suggest three distinct ways of thinking.
 
1. Many translators feel that humans will never be replaced by MT
 
“Machine translation between grammatically similar languages works well, but between languages from different families it can lack quality, which is where the human element of translation is still necessary. Machine translation just follows a specific set of rules coded into the program, but it can't interpret the social/emotional aspect of communication or follow the perhaps flawed human logic behind a sentence structure."
Lucy Astles, Translator from Korean into English.
  
2. Other translators are interested in MT and enjoy working with it, but know that MT has its limitations. 
 
“Technology changes life and improves production efficiency. This is an irreversible trend. Machine translation has had an impact on my career, but I think it has also improved my work efficiency and even accuracy. At present, it can't replace my brain. I consider it as my personal assistant, it helps me save time and allows me to focus more on understanding the content.”
Shuo Shuo Du, Translator from Chinese to Japanese.
 
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Opportunities and challenges coexist. Stay in harmony with MT and AI, catch it, use it and let it make you a better translator.”
Tracy Shang, Translator from Chinese to English.
 
3. Finally, some of translators are very enthusiastic about AI tools and MT, and see themselves working with it more and more in the future, because it allows them to provide better quality translations and to no longer have to deal with repetitive tasks. They are now able to devote all their time and skills to purely linguistic tasks, the part of their job that they prefer.
 
“New technologies and AI (directly related to our language processing industry) are to be seen as tools rather than threats. That said, these evolutions, like many others in the past, are definitely changing the translator's role and their daily tasks. But I'd say it's for the best, enabling translators to use their brains at their full potential, leaving the raw jobs to machines. Yes, many horse-mounted postmen lost their jobs when the steam locomotive appeared, but we must remember that railroads created plenty of new jobs and was also critical in the industrial revolution. I think the same goes with our industry, and that important changes are to be expected – hopefully for the best!”
Etienne Morrissette, Translator from English to Canadian French.
 
“Machine Translation and AI have significantly changed the translation industry, and this could be a great challenge. I think they can help to release us from mechanical repetition, and force us to focus more on the content and things that machines can't handle.”
Xiaochen Zhu, Translator from English to Chinese.
 
"Machine Translation is immensely helpful and a really important tool for the translator, which combined with the creativity of a translator's mind can produce AMAZING results!"
Panagiota Paraskevopoulou, Translator from English, German, French into Greek.
 
Nowadays, the industry tends to be increasingly focused on quantity rather than quality. The ideal solution would be for clients to be able to choose and pay for a specific level of editing and quality (depending on the use of the content and the target audience). However, despite the great advances in technology, humans still need to be involved in fine-tuning the results of machine translation, especially for high-value content. This will never change.
 
If you'd like to learn more about the opinions of our translators across a range of topics, click here.