Translation: A profession headed for extinction?

Can the translation profession be replaced by machines? Don’t hold your breath! No software can compete with its human counterparts.

Can the translation profession be replaced by machines? While translators reading these words will doubtless roll their eyes, when it comes to the general public, it’s a fair question. After all, there’s no denying that computers have eliminated the human element in many areas. That being said, translators are not ready to yield their place just yet.

Assist not replace

While it’s true that computerized tools have greatly facilitated the work of professional translators, no software is at the level of being able to compete with its human counterparts. There’s no question that in this day and age, computer assisted translation is a valuable tool, but machine translation engines are no substitute for the creativity that a professional translation service provides. These machines deliver translations that are literal and in a raw state, and which bear little resemblance to professional translations created by humans.

Subjectivity has its place

A computer does not think, does not question, does not second guess. Translation is a task that that is based, in part, on such elements. A good translation requires touches of subjectivity and creativity. So, what’s the recipe for a high quality translation? First mix in patience, skill and knowledge, then add intuition, questions and decisions, and top it off with a pinch of dictionaries, books and software.

A boost to productivity

Although machines are far from replacing humans as translators, progress continues to be made in the area of machine translation. While machine translation is not sufficiently powerful to yield acceptable results, it can save translators time and energy. This type of software is able to translate literally a whole text in a fraction of a second. But only a professional translator will be able to guarantee an end result that is high quality and easy to understand. This is why we refer to computer translations as machine pre-translation or “first draft” translations, which must without fail be edited by a professional translator.

A growing market

Another proof confirming the indispensability of translators is the significant number of translation agencies which have emerged in recent years. Despite the global economic crisis, not only has the translation profession not slowed down, it continues to grow. In today’s ever-increasingly globalized society, translation and interpretation services are an extremely valuable tool.

In brief, can professional translators be replaced with machines? Perhaps one day, in the distant future, robots will dethrone translators and the translation profession will cease to exist. After all, technology never ceases to amaze us. But believe me, that day has not yet come.

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