Computer-Assisted Translation & Machine Translation – Resistance is Futile

Machine Translation

Once again, a discussion took place on technological issues – in particular, the joint use of Machine Translation and Computer-Assisted Translation or Computer-Aided Translation as translation tools used by professional translators.

Machine translation – A bit of context

The attempt to manufacture automatic translation systems (MT – Machine Translation, or AT) emerged after the Second World War. By the 1970s, it was already quite clear that no computer was able to replicate all human reasoning behind decoding, translating, and recoding texts except those texts with extremely limited structure and vocabulary.

Computer-Assisted Translation Tools Have Flourished

In the last two decades, CAT (Computer-Assisted Translation – Tools) have flourished. They are optimised databases, originally integrated with text editors such as MS Word, then stand alone translation software. Those save everything a person translates – original source text and translation – and offers tools to manage glossaries. The idea is to accelerate translation work with research and typing, reusing terms and previously translated passages.

Most Machine Translation software is free  –  Wanna Know Why?

As of MT programs, we all know about those, mainly the free ones (Babelfish/Altavista, Systran, and, of course, Google Translate, among others). What has always been very obvious is that they are weak, making grammatical errors and gross terminology, serving only to have a vague idea of ​​what a site addresses, for example. Yet, no self-respecting professional would even look at such a program.

MT and CAT – A marriage of convenience

But technology has been evolving, and anyone who has been ignoring these applications for some years may have been surprised to find Google Translate to be unintended and that it is a lot smarter than we thought.

Then, one day, at a ATA Congress, a couple of translators presented a research combining MT and CAT: translation memory to store and reuse excerpts and expressions, and Google Translate for segments still to be translated, all monitored and reviewed by the translator. The results were amazing as far as speed and quality were concerned. A Presentation slide was made available, which I didn’t see at that time but I would follow some of the authors’ e-mail exchanges on the ATA mailing list. Again at the time, it was the kind of application for which I had the highest expectation.

Everybody’s Talking About It

Interestingly, almost 11 years ago, I wrote a monograph on machine translation. Part of my essay told the story and evolution of systems, and another part presented a test with software that existed at the time. This second part is totally obsolete – the system no longer exists and, frankly, the research was very weak, just a test without much scientific basis. I only left the text available on the internet until today because it is still quite cited because of the historical summary. What I find curious is that the discussion about MT is coming back in terms not very different from the ones I used in this article, after the CATs had gained their well-deserved space in history – much of which occurred well after this work.

Machine Translation Born of an Impossible Ideal

In short: MT was born of an impossible ideal. It was relegated to a by-product that does not affect the lives of translators. Suddenly, it comes around as something that yes, can be very useful, but raises a lot of questions, professional and ethical.

If, on the one hand, there are serious research and experiments, there is also the world of ordinary people. The translation market continues to grow. There is an increasing demand and more and more people wanting to be a translator. People wanting to learn and improve themselves, and also people wanting “easy” money (note the quotes).

Everybody’s – Still – Talking About It

Because of all this, discussions about market trends are boiling over on the “new” application of free MT software. Will many unprepared people use these applications without discretion? Do they even pose a threat to the “big” translators or do they even need to worry?

You will find many discussions on this topic in the Localisation professional group on Facebook.

In my opinion, those days, we can no longer bury our heads in the sand and fail to take notice and participate in this discussion. If several tools have already led us to increase productivity, quality and consistency of translations, the pressure for high productivity will only increase with the new generation of tools. The differential translators who believe they deserve to earn well for their work will have to account for this productivity, in addition to a quality far above the market average, since productivity without much quality is easy to achieve.

Borg Queen in Star Treck New generation

Machine Translation & Computer-Aided Translation – Resistance is Futile

The pessimists used to say that soon we would be proofreaders of the machines. Well, it is very much the case now.

Anyway, I want those machines to be my partners – it makes no sense to be afraid of them or to fight them.

“Resistance is futile”

Sauve qui peut ! Mon traducteur est en panne

erreur du serveur de traduction

Nombreuses sont les personnes qui pensent – à tort – qu’il suffit d’utiliser un logiciel de traduction automatique pour faire traduire tout et n’importe quoi.

Or, ces logiciels ne sont pas toujours fiables.

Un propriétaire de restaurant en apprit amèrement la leçon lorsqu’il voulut traduire en anglais l’enseigne de son restaurant. Or, ce jour là, le serveur était en panne.

Le jour de l’ouverture, le propriétaire du restaurant affichait fièrement son enseigne, qui disait en anglais : « erreur du serveur de traduction ».

Attention, certains traducteurs (humains) font aussi des erreurs. Voir ci-dessous. Cela démontre que vous devriez toujours faire appel à un traducteur professionnel pour s’occuper de vos projets de traduction.

Campagne publicitaire infructueuse

American Airlines, l’une des compagnies aériennes américaines les plus traditionnelles, lança une campagne publicitaire «Fly in Leather» pour mettre en avant ses avions avec sièges en cuir. Jusqu’ici tout va bien, mais la traduction espagnole causa un certain inconfort. La traduction « vuela en cueros », en effet, était une invitation inhabituelle pour les clients à voler nus. Cela ne fonctionna pas, bien sûr.    

La rébelle du tatouage

Parfois, ces tatouages ​​écrits circulent sur Internet qui attirent davantage l’attention sur leurs fautes d’orthographe que sur leur manque de beauté. Si des erreurs se produisent avec des mots dans votre propre langue, imaginez ce qui peut se passer avec une traduction? Eh bien, même la célèbre chanteuse pop Rihanna en a fait les frais. La traduction anglais-français de “fleur rebelle” fût traduite par “Rebelle Fleur”, alors que le contraire aurait été correct.     

Fin des négociations

Il est rapporté que dans la lointaine année de 1830, au milieu des négociations entre la France et les États-Unis, un secrétaire mit fin aux négociations entre les pays en raison d’une traduction erronée.

Le message transmis à la Maison Blanche disait “Le gouvernement français demande” mais a été mis comme “le gouvernement français exige”. La confusion est survenue parce que le verbe français «demander» fût changé en « demand » (exiger) en anglais. Le président américain n’aima pas le ton et suspendit les pourparlers. Ce n’est qu’après le malentendu résolu que les pays reprirent leurs négociations.   

Comme vous pouvez le voir, une mauvaise traduction peut vite conduire à la catastrophe. Donc, lorsque vous avez besoin d’une traduction, faites appel à un traducteur professionnel.