Machine translation (or MT, for short) is a computer-based translation technique. It relies on powerful algorithms to convert text from one language to another, and, in its purest form, it has zero human intervention.

Today, the use of Machine Translation has increased significantly because organisations require translations in a quick and cost-effective manner. For instance, law firms involved on multi-jurisdictional matters have growing requirements to review foreign language documents and search for relevant terms to get the gist of what those documents are about.

The most common kind of MT is available on the device you’re currently using to read this blog post. Chrome, Internet Explorer, and Safari have a button you can click any time you visit a foreign language website, and it will produce a rough copy in English after a few seconds.

In theory, this is like the way translation companies use MT for commercial or legal documents. They run the original text through advanced MT programmes and wait for the algorithms do their magic. These translations are quick yet rough, so they suit time-sensitive projects but not detail-orientated work requiring a special touch.

How can you tell which one you need? Today, we’re going to shine a spotlight on the different types of machine translation services. Then we’ll share the pros and cons of MT to help you decide if it’s the right fit for your project.

What is Machine Translation?

Machine Translation is an automated translation process in which texts from one language to another is translated by an algorithm without any human involvement. In Machine Translation, source text is easily and quickly translated into any target language.

Machine Translation is not to be confused with Computer Assisted Translation. Machine Translation is a product of computer software where humans might review the product at the end for quality checking purposes. On the other hand, computer assisted translation utilises various machine translation engines to support human translators.

How does Machine Translation Work?

Machine Translation works by using software to convert large amounts of one language (source language) into another (target language). MT is just an umbrella term. To understand more about how MT works, we need to examine the three different techniques.

The 3 Types of Machine Translation

There are three different types of Machine translations methods which are used in recent times.

1. Rules-Based Machine Translation

RBMT system was the first commercial machine translation system that was based on linguistic rules and allows words to be put in different places depending on the context. These rules are predefined by human experts and programmers in both the source and target language. RBMT technology takes place in three different phases: Analysis, Transfer and Generation.

Rules-based MT is what most people think of when they hear the words machine translation. It involves teaching the AI dictionaries and linguistic rules of the intended languages.

Engineers feed Rules-Based MT software the building blocks of these languages (words, grammar, morphology, etc.) so that it has a broad understanding of their syntax and semantic frameworks. Using this knowledge, Rules-Based MT analyses the original text and recreates it in the target language according to its unique rules.

Rules-based Machine translation is often a time-consuming and expensive process; however, it does have higher quality outputs compared to other translation methods. This is because vocabulary used in this method can be updated and edited easily to refine the quality of the translated text which helps the text to be read more fluently and removes the somewhat machine-like quality that can occur.

2. Statistical-Based Machine Translation (SBT)

Statistical MT or SBT does not rely as heavily on rules as it does patterns. Engineers train their algorithms using large amounts of textual data from both languages with the aim to learn by example. As its name suggests, Statistical MT makes word-for-word translations that are the most common (or statistically likely) according to this data.

SBT translates by using statistics to generate translations based on existing human translations (also known as bilingual text corpora). Not like Rules-based machine translation which has a more word-based approach, SBT systems are phrase-based and uses phrases instead of word-to-word translation, the aim of phrased-base translation is to reduce the limitations of word-based translation by translating whole sequences of words (also called phrases).

Extensive Analysis of the bilingual corpus (original and target languages) and the monolingual corpus (target language) generates statistical models which work to define which words or phrases are more likely to be used in translation.

3. Neural Machine Translation

The newest of the bunch, Neural MT, is a more sophisticated version of Statistical MT that relies on deep learning, which is a method of building algorithms that mimic the structure and function of the human brain. Whereas Statistical MT separates all the words then translates and then reorders them, Neural MT uses a single end-to-end sequence that does all these jobs concurrently.

Neural Machine Translation applies a large artificial neural network which predicts the likely sequence of words, often in the form of whole phrases and sentences. Unlike statistical-based translation, NMT, consumes less memory and time since NMT models are trained to maximize the quality of translations. MT systems are quickly becoming the forefront of machine translation, outcompeting other traditional forms of translation systems.

NMT is one of the most advanced methods of machine translation which utilises complex algorithms, for example deep learning and AI. This enables NMT to quickly learn new languages which can then be trusted upon to generate constantly high-quality outputs. Google Translate is one of the most successful translation platforms in the world and one which currently uses NMT to increase and improve its accuracy.

The Advantages of Machine Translation

Plenty of companies opt for automated translation services. Here are three reasons motivating this choice.

1. Works Faster Than Any Human

When it comes to a race between artificial intelligence and human beings, machines will always win. Computer chips can process information at superhuman speeds and carry out simple “if/then” scenarios in the time it takes us to blink.

There’s also the fact that computers don’t have to take breaks or sleep to recharge, so they can maintain these speeds indefinitely.

Working tirelessly 24/7, MT may be helpful when you’re up against the clock. Its powerful tech can produce text quickly, so you can meet rigid, fast-approaching deadlines.

2. Suitable for Large Volume Projects

Another advantage of MT’s fast processing ability is the sheer volume it can process at one time. Since it produces translations faster than human linguists, technology can handle a greater number of documents.

MT is a good idea when you have an enormous number of documents to translate and can’t spare the time it would take a human translator to give each translation individual attention. A large volume of documents won’t overwhelm its algorithms or tie up manhours.

3. Automation Costs Less Money

One of the biggest perks of automation is its price. MT software costs less to operate than it does to compensate a linguist, and you’ll see these cost savings trickle down.

For more insights into cost breakdowns, please compare our machine translation services costs to understand this pricing. MT may be an affordable option when you have a minimal operating budget for your translation.

The Disadvantages of Machine Translation

Like many things in life, MT has both pros and cons in equal numbers. Here are three disadvantages that may sway you from using MT for your next project.

1. Increases the Chances of Errors

MT software creates a word-for-word translation of one language to another. These literal translations don’t always retain the meaning of the source, especially if the original uses idioms, slang, or words that have multiple definitions.

Although MT is fast, it still lacks the insight to understand the context behind more creative subjects. The best machine translation software can’t think laterally like human beings, so it struggles to produce eloquent copy that reflects the style or tone of the original.

In other words, native speakers will be able to tell a robot makes the translation.

When MT makes the wrong choice with a word, your document may take on a completely different meaning in another language. It can even produce grammatical and structural errors or leave in culturally irrelevant statements that confuse your readers.

In the worst-case scenario, it may unwittingly create a translation that’s offensive to your new audience. That’s why it’s crucial you always have a human translator on your most important, client-facing projects. Experienced linguists can understand the original intent of your project and produce a translation that mimics its meaning and tone in a way that’s relevant for your new audience.

2. Unsuitable for Specialised Topics

Even the best machine translation software is designed for general use; it struggles to translate more complex language adequately.

The legal, medical, and financial industries have their own languages, complete with acronyms and technical terms that aren’t used in everyday conversations. These terms may not be found in the dictionaries used as MT’s data sets. As a result, MT may not recognize their lexicon and make inaccurate translations.

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A small mistake in a legal document or medical record could have dire consequences for your business and clients, so we recommend letting certified translation services handle these important projects. An informed human translator is familiar with the abbreviations and quirks of niche industries, so they can accurately interpret these terms without error.

Here at LingArch, our linguists have specialisations in a variety of fields. We can assign someone with experience in any of the following industries:

  • Advertising & PR
  • Financial
  • Government
  • Healthcare
  • Legal
  • Life Sciences
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Retail & Ecommerce
  • Travel & Hospitality

3. May Not Be Available for Niche Languages

MT software makes short work of popular languages such as Mandarin, Spanish, and English. These are the topmost spoken languages in the entire world, and they happen to be the main languages of international trade.

It’s no coincidence that software engineers focus on these languages first, building a Spanish to English translation machine before tackling software that can translate Romanian into Burmese.

While you might not find the machine translation of languages you need, you may have better luck with a human linguist. You can find native speakers to translate rare languages not yet available through MT.

Machine Translation Vs Human Translation

MT is a fast option that can handle large-volume projects when you have little time and money. However, it lacks the nuanced approach of a human linguist, resulting in errors and tone-deaf translations. For important texts and industry-specific documents, an experienced translator might be the better option. These professionals take their time making flawless translations.

In what ways is human translation better than machine translation?

Machine Translation can pick up words and phrases in any given language and translate them, but it misses out on the nuances that come from different cultural norms and ways of speaking, thus impacting the quality of translation. Whereas human translators can pick up on complex sentences, words and sensitivity of certain communications allowing for more accurate and better-quality translations. This is particularly useful in regulated industries like healthcare, legal and finance.

Furthermore, translations that are required for distribution purposes need to be contextually clear and should contain accurate information, because inaccuracy can have dire consequences. Law firms working on documents that are required for court proceedings have been thoroughly translated to ensure that the content is translated with highest level of accuracy. Similarly, PR firms working on press releases must ensure that the content in respective press releases is translated with perfection with no errors whatsoever. Human translation is the solution whenever an accurate translation is required.

How to choose between Machine Translation & Human Translation

At LingArch, we consult our clients to understand exactly what their requirements are and provide them with a customised solution that meets their requirements in both cost-efficient and timely manner. In case you are unsure which option works the best for you, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us today to discuss your requirements.

If you still aren’t sure which one best suits your project, talk to us about our post editing services. This third option lets you have the best of both automated and human translations. A human proofreader will go over the AI’s quick work to correct any errors and adjust for tone and style.

To learn more about how we meld MT with our manual translation services, get in touch today. One of our representatives can provide a cost estimate of your options.