The problem of automatic translators. Without a doubt, automatic translators improve over time, however, they are not a substitute for professional translation and interpretation. The vice-dean of the Faculty of Translation and Interpretation of Granada, Jan-Hendrik Opdenhoff mentioned that “Perhaps the day will come when machine translation will take away the jobs of professionals, but it is not imminent. Their big problem is the context: the machines do not know the world”. Machine translators don’t know about literature, culture, grammar or history.

Automatic translation is undoubtedly revolutionary, it allows us to translate texts in seconds, understand completely unknown languages ​​from a mobile phone, etc. It’s fast, cheap and easy to use, but it has its limits. Some of its limitations are:

– Lack of quality and precision: When it comes to achieving quality and precision to transmit a message, machine translation technology cannot offer it. Machine translators cannot check sentence by sentence to write it in the most concrete way. Therefore, these are most effective when used to get an overview or translate a short text, not for larger or important documents. Said technology cannot accurately recognize which is the appropriate idiomatic turn when a word has several meanings according to the context, the subject, the industry and the sector in which the content to be translated deals with.

– It has no context: Technology cannot understand the way in which a mistranslated word or phrase can alter the meaning of a message. They take the message very literally and are not able to translate it in a way that makes sense in context.

– Technicalities and jargon: The technicalities and jargon of certain sectors are terms that automatic translators are not capable of detecting and understanding. On the other hand, professional translators know the language of the different sectors and find suitable words to translate it into a foreign language.

– Limits on formats: Generally, in automatic translators there are limits on file sizes. If you want to translate an audio or a handwritten document, it cannot be done with this technology.

– Lack of expertise: Contrary to professional translators, with an automatic translator you will not be able to obtain expertise in the topics. Professional translators are experts in certain languages ​​or even in specific industries or sectors.

This refers especially to translators of written content. In the case of interpretation (oral translation of content) the situation is even more difficult for automatic translators, called interpreting machines, since interpreting is not only orally translating the words that the other person is saying, it is a much more difficult task. Complex and sophisticated.

Interpreters need a deep level of knowledge in both the source and target languages. If they can’t follow the context of the conversation, they won’t be able to paraphrase it in a way that preserves its meaning. For this reason, professional interpreters must be fluent in both languages. Because they work orally, interpreters can speak fluently. In addition, they must know the customs, regionalisms and oral colloquialisms of each language. However, they do not interpret the message word by word.

If one tried to directly translate a sentence from one language to another in real time, the original meaning could not be conveyed clearly and it would become confusing for both parties. Instead, the most important technique of interpretation is paraphrasing. Interpreters listen to spoken words, understand their meaning, and transform them into new words in the target language.

Subject matter expertise is also an important part of an interpreter’s skill set. Familiarity with a certain topic is an advantage when engaging in highly technical conversations, especially when parties use different words or acronyms for certain terms.

On the other hand, performers must convey the feel and tone of the original content. It is about transmitting a message in the most reliable way, including moods and even what is meant by body and facial expressions and the emotions transmitted. Last but not least, there are four aspects that must be considered in order to better understand the dynamics between machine and human translation:

  1. Possibly that the acceptance and comfort of users, whether they are readers or listeners, is greater when they know that they are being assisted by a human being and not by a machine. Especially when the topics to be discussed are medical, legal or business. It is difficult to find a person who wants to sign an automatically translated contract, without any human intervention to ensure a reliable, assertive and adequate translation, worse still, in a verbal negotiation where there is a much higher risk of miscommunication.
  2. The cultural aspect of feeling assisted by a translator or interpreter who knows the culture, customs and jargon of both parties in the communication process is very relevant for users.
  3. There is always the doubt of whether the translator or interpreting machine is doing the job correctly.
  4. In the case of interpreting machines, it has been confirmed that they are very effective for short and simple translations, such as telling a taxi driver the direction we want to go, but not for interpreting a keynote speech. For example, interpreting a negotiation, or medical or legal assistance, which involves a much higher risk of miscommunication. In fact, the insurance industry is a constraint for automatic translators and interpreting machines to prevail and replace human language assistance. The risk of using artificial intelligence to replace translators and/or interpreters is too high and can have very large economic, legal and reputational implications that the insurance industry cannot accept. This industry will always seek to reduce the associated risk. For example, in Mexico many people say foot to the leg. What happens if in a medical service or procedure an interpreting machine translates as foot and not as leg, and as a result the diagnosis or medical procedure is wrong and serious complications arise? Who pays? The insurer?

Undoubtedly, automatic translators and interpreting machines have their advantages. They are fast, cheap and are good at translating short texts. However, a professional translator is irreplaceable. These are capable of translating the texts adequately, fully knowing the appropriate words so as not to lose the context. In the case of companies, it is necessary to have professional translators in order to improve their image and provide quality to their documents and contracts. A good translation can generate high profits when looking for international business partners.