Machine translation and post-editing best practice – why we will always need the human touch

Machine translation does not replace the need for my professional translation skills, instead it adds to the tools that I have at my disposal, it has helped me to combine my knowledge and expertise with automated translation capability.

Back in my university days, 20 years ago, our Computer Linguistics & Machine Translation tutor used to say that in 20 years’ time both translators & interpreters would all be redundant because machine translation is the future. Today we are still around and quite busy, despite a huge leap forward in both machine translation and general technology. However, our methods of work have modified greatly when compared with those 20 years ago. The incredible development of technology has given us many tools to make our translation process much more efficient and fast, and our translation results, in turn, are much more consistent.

SDL Language Technologies’ machine translation tool is called SDL BeGlobal. SDL Trados Studio 2011 provides free access to BeGlobal Community, so you can trial machine translation for free from within your translation memory tool. SDL BeGlobal has not replaced the need for translators; instead it has helped us to combine our knowledge and expertise with machine capabilities and as a result made the translation process quicker. Combining the expert skills of professional translators with machine translation ensures that high quality standards are maintained as only experienced translators can guarantee quality despite of all the advancements in technology. Lingvajet is an approved SDL training centre and we regularly communicate and train translators on the benefits of current technology and how to apply it to their work processes. From the positive feedback we receive, we can easily see that using machine translation facilitates their translation process and helps them to achieve a quick and high quality translation. It shows the benefits of combining human and machine translation to achieve the best results. Translators with a high workload of business and technical translations find SDL BeGlobal beneficial to translate the bulk of the material and then complement it with SDL Trados Studio technology to bring the machine translation up to the required quality.

For LSPs, SDL BeGlobal is an invaluable tool to help their clients process huge amounts of information in a relatively short period of time. To illustrate the benefits, I will give you a personal example from one of my clients in the Oil & Gas industry; many years ago my client had a large number of asset evaluation projects to translate from Russian into English and vice versa. They had to evaluate several oil fields in 3 months and the input information was entirely in Russian. Each field document contained 500,000-700,000 words.

This task would have been challenging enough if we had 3 months to translate all these files, however, and as is often the case, we had only 3 months for the whole project , the engineers needed the information as soon as possible so they had time to evaluate it and produce their own reports. We processed all the files through a machine translation tool. In those days, machine translation tools were not as developed as they are today, and then tried to ‘brush it up’ manually. This proved to be a difficult task as some parts of the text were incorrect and the message itself was often complicated. The final quality was not perfect and our engineers were not very impressed. In the end they hired a team of interpreters to assist them in translating the technical information from the original so that they had clarification on points when they needed to supplement the translation. Although this was difficult and not perfect, given the time constraints, using machine translation was a critical tool in helping us to complete this task. Since then the standard of machine translation has increased dramatically producing much more accurate results. SDL BeGlobal is one of the new generation of machine translation tools which offers the capability to ‘train the engine’ for more accurate results by applying language resources like TMs and Termbases from your client to machine translation process.

As an LSP you will probably have a view on the use of machine translation and post-editing services. If you have to process huge volumes of information during a relatively short period of time you will have considered weighing up the cost versus the benefit of employing your best freelancers on a process that may not give you 100% accuracy but that could still give you the best solution for both you as the LSP and your client.

Current machine translation tools such as SDL BeGlobal produce high quality results and can process large volumes of information quickly which helps reviewers to get the general idea of the document very quickly. Use of this method of translation truly excels when used in conjunction with tools such as SDL Trados Studio, which will verify the output and ‘enhance’ automated translation to make it more readable for the client.

As SDL approved trainers, we have seen how easily translators adapt new skills to their specific requirements once they have received training and support by more experienced colleagues who can offer hints on best practice. You might ask how a tool such as SDL BeGlobal can be used in your current work processes and possible examples are as follows:

  1. PMs translate the text internally (or a number of texts) using SDL BeGlobal. If you have any Translation Memories at hand from this client, you can use them together with an automated translation, to make your translation consistent with texts translated by your freelancers using SDL Trados Studio.
  2. PMs can then send the text to a post-editor to verify the translation using the clients’ Termbases and Translation Memories in SDL Trados Studio, for which they can use such software functionality as “Display Filter", “Concordance" and “Global Find & Replace", plus automated QA Checker and Terminology Verifier, which will drastically speed up the verification process and will make it much more effective.
  3. The PMs re-verify the text to check whether the proof-reader performed a good-quality job (and SDL Trados Studio tools make this process not only possible, but also quite easy) and send the translation back to the client.

Using machine translation as part of the CAT tool mix LSPs can provide significant cost savings for their clients, they can decrease the translation turnaround time and at the same time increase the quality of the translation, creating a very positive and professional company image.

To finish, let’s review possible situations where this technology can be used:

  • To provide a quick and good-quality translation of big volumes of documents in a very short period of time.
  • To reduce the client’s costs in case they need to process huge volumes of information which will only be used internally for general information purposes, e.g. for initial research and gaining information about potential clients or reading client’s websites or, e.g. in medical researches – when the clients need to collect input information in different languages from all over the world, process it and then translate into multiple languages for their clients, thus, helping them to increase revenues from new markets.
  • Helping your clients in real-time day-to-day communication by providing “gist translation" of correspondence and general information, for instance, for monitoring help desk communications, social media and by this, providing additional service to the clients and increasing your own revenues, etc.

There are many more situations where machine translation can be used and many more advantages than those stated above. To get more in-depth knowledge and learn more about using SDL BeGlobal, it might be worthwhile considering attending a training course.

Lingvajet is the only London-based approved SDL Trados training centre and we would be more than happy to work with you to combine SDL best practice training.