Technological progress changed all aspects of human life, from education, health, safety, and basic services and commodities to socialization… mostly for the better, but not always.
Technology has also brought up significant changes in the perspective and approach of multilingual communication.
On one hand, this is mutually beneficial: just as technology benefited translation professionals, technical translation is also vital for multiple technological fields—from construction and engineering to automation and robotics.
In such a global scenario, companies’ documentation, like contracts and other legal documents, and product documentation, such as patents and instruction manuals, often require translation.
On the other hand, technology is a double-edged sword, and I’m not talking about the “Singularity” or about artificial intelligence taking over the world and enslaving humans. 🤖 It’s just that there are pros and cons to all technological progress, and this also applies to the impact of technology on translation.
As we can see in centuries, the translation landscape didn’t change that much, but over the last half-century it has undergone dramatic changes!
We can’t even begin to imagine having to work like Saint Jerome, relying entirely on memory, a quill, ink, and paper! 😅
We are extremely well equipped today.
Because translators work with computers, technological progress has had a transformative effect on all linguistic services, such as translation and localization, transcreation, interpretation, copywriting, etc.
There is no doubt that the use of new technologies in translation is becoming more and more relevant, making the translation process increasingly efficient.
Just the fact that we can now store a humongous amount of data at home, occupying virtually no space, and access a world of information available online, has brought translation into a new era.
If Saint Jerome only knew! 😇
“New” translation technologies, and here I am specifically thinking about translation memories, ease the work of translators by helping them produce large amounts of work in a relatively short time.
With tools for each phase of the translation process—from research and translation itself to proofreading and quality assurance—not only do translation management tools (TMT) help the translator by speeding up the process, but they also benefit the customer by improving accuracy and consistency.
This allows for better quality while also saving both freelance translators and translation agencies—and, ultimately, customers—a great deal of time, which in turn can be used to accept more work and earn more money!
Change is scary, but necessary
Anne Bronte wrote, “he that dares not grasp the thorn, should never crave the rose.”
Of course, everything has benefits and detriments, and change can be both exciting and disrupting.
Yves Gambier, in Impact of technology on Translation and Translation Studies, University of Turku, concluded that a world of large-scale businesses and industries requiring large-scale translations naturally demands shorter deadlines and, inevitably, reduced costs.
Stephen Doherty, in The Impact of Translation Technologies on the Process and Product of Translation, University of New South Wales, explains the effects of two main technological advances in translation: Computer-aided Translation (CAT) and Machine Translation (MT).
Not too long ago, the term “machine translation” was dreaded or frowned upon by both customers and translators.
The term wasn’t understood as a translation aid, since customers perceived MT negatively for providing extremely poor-quality translations, and translators themselves perceived it as a future threat to their own professional relevance and existence.
MT consists essentially of software that automatically translates text without any human intervention. In fact, translation was one of the first computing applications in the 1950s, and MT has been around, even if rudimentarily, since the 1960s!
Dreaded at first, these two technologies have proved to benefit translators by improving their productivity and the quality of their translations. They have also shown a beneficial impact on the world by improving international communication and further reducing language barriers, helping bring people together.
However, despite not being as dangerous as they were initially perceived, and as Doherty well noted, these tools do present great challenges and insecurities for professional translators and the translation industry.
Even though they make it possible to translate more text faster, they can also put a lot of pressure on professionals, since they change the customers’ perception of how much work they can reasonably expect from a translator in how much time, and for what cost.
A fair number of customers already had no idea that translation isn’t a simple, direct, word-for-word task.
Translators are qualified and experienced professionals that must be rewarded fairly for the work they provide and the hours they have invested.
In fact, translation is a time-consuming service, composed of several phases:
- every project must be proofread to check for mistakes or inconsistencies;
- terminology must be researched and verified—and possibly stored/managed to ensure future consistency;
- translators must continually improve their own professional skills to keep track of changes in technology and industry developments;
- research can take as long as the actual translation work, etc.
It’s fair to say that today’s customers misconceptions about cat tools can skew how they perceive a translator’s work (and prices) even further.
This makes people wonder whether it’s worth paying a professional translator for a high-quality translation when they could just get a reasonable translation for a very low price, or even for free. They could even do it themselves!
Of course, you always get what you pay for. And I won’t even get into the fundamental attributes of sensibility and sensitivity that machines can’t handle, the know-how and skills of a professional, or the question of value-for-money. But that’s another story—maybe in a new article! 😉
For now, you can read the 3rd and last part of this article.
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