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¿Puede la traducción automática sustituir a la traducción humana?

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Machine translation como sustituta de la traducción humana

The world of translation is progressing at breakneck speed, as machine translation (MT) methods are being increasingly perfected .

Gradually, with these new automated technologies, the need for human intervention in translation processes is diminishing.

The phenomenon of automatic translation appeared for the first time in the early 1950s, causing a before and after in terms of translation and completely revolutionizing the sector. This tool makes it possible to translate texts automatically without help from a human translator. 

Since this technology began to be used, an endless debate has been opened: will machine translation completely replace human translation?

This is what we’ll be taking a closer look at in this article to help you answer any questions you might have.

We’ll also tell you about the main characteristics of each, so you can decide which is best for your needs.

Human translation: our origins

Surprising as it may be, translation dates way back to distant eras. The first recognized evidence of human translation is found in the Rosetta stone: an Egyptian decree written on a 800 kg stone over a meter high, which is written in three different languages: Egyptian hieroglyphs, demotic script and Greek.  

From that moment, the discipline of translation begins in terms of study and practice. Translation has been a vital activity for human civilization, accompanying us throughout our history, and it continues to play a key role in today’s society.

It was with the appearance of the printing press in the fifteenth century that the activity of human translation experienced a great boom. This tool led to a dramatic increase in the use of written language to translate texts into other languages and improve communication between different cultures and societies that spoke different languages.

The role of the translator took on particular importance from the industrial revolution onwards, with the expansion of international trade and diplomacy, and has remained key to sharing scientific and technological advances on a global scale to this day. 

Human translation: pros and cons

Techniques and procedures in human translation

Human translation has evolved enormously throughout history, with techniques that have been increasingly refined and the methodology itself becoming a much more exhaustive and efficient process. 

Most common techniques in human translation:

  • Literal translation: consists of carrying out a literal translation of the words of the original text, without altering the meaning or the structure. This type of translation is only useful in cases where the languages involved in the translation correspond in their structure.
  • Equivalency: this type of translation aims to be faithful to the tone and message of the original text, changing the structure and style of the source and creating equivalency between the two languages.
  • Calque: similar to literal translation, this is used to translate expressions from the source language without necessarily respecting the structure.
  • Adaptation: This technique involves adapting cultural elements from the text so that they make sense in the target language so that they make the same sense in your society.
  • Transposition: involves an alteration in the grammatical structure of the sentence, but the meaning is not altered.

However, the success of human translation does not lie in these techniques, but rather in the judgment and sensitivity of the person who uses them.

Human translation processes

In general, translators tend to follow a series of guidelines that are not strictly mandatory, but highly recommended for the translation process to be successful. Below, you will find general phases of the translation process of a standard document.

  • Analysis of the document to be translated: this begins with a preliminary reading to identify the subject and style of the original text, as well as the intended purpose of the translation and the working language. In addition, in this phase, translation support tools are usually chosen, such as; bilingual and monolingual dictionaries, glossaries etc.  
  • Research: previous necessary search for parallel texts and information on the topic to be translated.
  • Translation: is understood as the same process of transferring the information of a text from a language A to a language B, respecting the intention of the author and being as faithful as possible to the source text.  
  • Proofreading: this is a fundamental part of the process that usually focuses on errors related to meaning, grammar and style. 
  • Delivery: the requested translation is delivered to the client.

Main issues with human translation

The main problem with human translation is the time the translator needs to complete a project. Although work environments have evolved and speed up the human translation process, it continues to be slower than the pace of the current market and its immediacy requires.  

Translators work with computers that speed up the process with the help of various tools, such as word processors that alert users of minor grammar or spelling errors. In addition, terminological research is carried out much more quickly thanks to internet platforms.  

Unfortunately, this is not enough. For the human translation to be perfect, it takes a lot of time and proofreading, so its price is much higher and the time frames are longer.

However, there are certain tasks for which human translation continues to be the best option. When translating or transcreating marketing content, for example, human sensitivity and creativity are still difficult to replace despite technological advances.

Machine translation: pros and cons

Techniques and procedures in machine translation

If human translation has advanced in recent decades, machine translation has achieved an unimaginable scope, with a great impact on the profession.

The first automated translations were rule-based (RBMT) and used linguistic information from dictionaries and grammatical resources both for the source and target language.

Later, this was replaced by statistical machine translation (SMT), which analyzed existing bilingual corpora. 

The latest trends in machine translation are now led by Neural Machine Translation (NMT) which uses artificial neural networks, and which companies like Google and Microsoft are already implementing.

Machine translation processes

The process that machine translation tools usually follow are generally split into three distinct stages:

  • Analysis of the source text (TO): Often assisted by Natural Language Processing (NLP), this stage is essential for the tool to properly break down the text and provide the most faithful and accurate translation possible.
  • Transfer from the source language (LO) to the target language (LT): it is the bilingual stage where the tool automatically produces the translated text from the information extracted from the analysis, the glossaries, the translation memories, corpus, etc.
  • Synthesis of the term language: the system adapts the order of the words within the sentences according to the TL following its specific rules and the translation is generated.

Main issues with machine translation

While machine translation has made considerable leaps, it’s still IT software and is not yet 100% comparable to the human mind.

One of the main shortcomings in the previous analysis of the source text is usually the recognition of nuances according to the context. This continues to be a complicated challenge for machine translation software, even with the help of translation memories stored from previous translations. 

The context and cultural meanings of the source language and the target language are still difficult to identify for automated tools.

While in recent years they have undergone a process of refinement and will continue to do so at an accelerating pace, the reality is that, for the time being, machine translation cannot completely replace human translation. They must work together for  the same cause: to achieve increasingly accurate translations with a more efficient process. As a result, many companies choose to use machine translation and carry out a postediting process.

The post-editing process of machine translations comprises the translation of a corpus by a machine translation tool and subsequent review by a human translator. This way, mistakes that the machine translation tool has not properly resolved can be detected, but without the delays associated with a translation carried out solely by a human translator.

The evolution of translation software

There is a plethora of machine translation engines out there, both public and private. Some of the most widely used nowadays, including both free-to-use versions and advanced paid versions, are:

All of these engines help to translate texts faster and more efficiently. Although these tools are being refined, they still make mistakes, such as grammatical errors and issues with context or terminological coherence. These vary considerably depending on the language pair or knowledge area.

The need for human translation depends more on the nature and purpose of the text, but this is a complex topic that requires further unpacking. 

We hope this article has been useful in shedding light on any questions you may have had and that it helps you choose the translation service that’s best suited to your needs. You can find related content on our blog.

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