In this digital day and age of automation and artificial intelligence, you can find computer software that can perform just about any task you can think of, from balancing your checkbook to managing complex operations of a large corporation. Over the past few years, machine translations have become increasingly popular and for good reason – it’s a quick and easy way to see text translated almost instantaneously on your computer screen. But the fact is that machine translation will never hold a candle to human professional translators for one very important reason: translation is an art, not a science.
Some may argue that translation is much more rigid than any kind of art form. After all, the process of translation in its simplest form consists of converting a sequence of words from one language to another, and that involves following definitions of words as if they were a roadmap or a set of rigid instructions. But the truth is that language consists of far more than simply a list of dictionary definitions. In fact, language is chock full of nuances in usage and construction, and to achieve a high quality translation requires human intelligence, an understanding of those nuances, and the creativity to reshape the original language into an articulate alternate form – one that is not only an accurate translation, but also one that retains the original style, tone and intent. Those nuances are not understood by any computer program. And our current level of artificial intelligence isn’t capable of the kind of creativity necessary for a top notch translation.
Just as an artist interprets his or her subject through the lens of personal experience and interpretation, so the linguist brings that same personal point of view into play with a translation. Understanding the original intent of the source text requires not just a superficial knowledge of language, but also an appreciation for the author’s background, attitudes, and purpose. An excellent translation is much more than simply a string of words changed from one language to another; a high quality translation is an accurate interpretation of the original source text. And that interpretation is something that a machine – at least at this point in our technological age – is not capable of producing.
Still, machine translations do have some usefulness: if you need a simplistic translation of a message sent via social media, for example, or a quick translation of a particular word or phrase used in a novel you’re currently enjoying in your spare time. But if you need a high quality translation for your business, there is no substitute for a trained, experienced, human linguist.