Online translators are fantastic when you need something translated into your native language, but they do have a number of big disadvantages and therefore extremely limited applications. The biggest problem with online translators is that they cannot understand context. Pop in a simple word and it translates it, great. But if that word has more than one translation the translator won’t know the sentence you wish to use the word in. Most of them will just give you the most common translation of each word. However, some of the better ones will give you multiple possibilities, then it’s up to you to decide which word fits your sentence.
Google Translate tries to go a step further and use smarter algorithms that choose the most likely translation of a given word in a given context. It’s can do this because of its extensive lists of texts that include human-created translations. However, these texts are usually limited to topics like politics and economics, meaning casual conversations or colloquialisms are hard to find translations for. When looking for a “cool” restaurant you’ll use the word cool, you wouldn’t type in “popular with fashionable people” restaurant would you?
Speaking of Google…
How good is Google Translate?
As of October 2016, Google has been a lot more accurate after the launch of an updated translation tool that uses smarter artificial intelligence to produce insanely precise language translations. This tool was called the Google Neural Machine Translation system (GNMT), and despite it improving the overall accuracy of Google Translate, it still mistranslated rare terms and would sometimes lose words it feels are unnecessary.
Google uses statistical machine translation (SMT) to translate words and phrases. The easiest way to describe this is that its where a computer system creates a mathematical model of language based on statistical relationships between human-translated documents. The biggest problem it faces is it has no knowledge of the words or how they are arranged in natural languages, this means it cannot make a rational decision about the meaning of a word or phrase as there are several vague choices.
If I were to sum up Google Translate I would say its brilliant because its fast, doesn’t cost anything and its more accurate than some of the other online translators. But, it can’t beat a skilled human translator when conveying the exact meaning of a word or phrase.
Humans vs Machines
Some of the biggest problems with online translators have already been discussed but there are several advantages to using them. A human translator has a whole heap of benefits but also has some downsides.
Many of the free tools, such as Google Translate and other online translators, are easily accessible leading to a quick turnaround when trying to find a translation. As time goes by translation technology is constantly getting stronger, and frequently introducing new features like the ability to translate between multiple languages using one tool will only improve it even more.
As mentioned before, machines struggle to translate context meaning their levels of accuracy can be quite low. The accuracy is also considered to be unpredictable across multiple languages. Although, cheap online translators are more appealing, it can be extremely costly if a mistake is made.
As opposed to machines, humans are able to interpret the context of the conversation or phrase, as well as whether someone is using creative language such as; puns, metaphors or slang. Humans can review their own work to ensure they have provided the most accurate translations possible. Most importantly, humans are able to see when words or phrase are untranslatable and find the most realistic alternative.
It is a longer process for a human translator, meaning turnaround time for translations is significantly longer in comparison with machines. It’s a very rare situation when a translator will work for free so it can be quite costly using a human translator. Unless you have access to a translation agency where you can choose between multiple translators, all with different language qualifications, you’re limited to the languages your chosen translator can work with.