Will technology change the translation industry?

Translation industry is a very specific sector. Here, the mixture of human creativity and technological efficiency worked together successfully for at least the last 20 years. Nonetheless, as technology now becomes more and more advanced, many professional linguists fear that similarly to other industries and professions, they too might become irrelevant at best, at ‘extinct’ at worst, when the technology truly takes over their sector.

Indeed, although trivial at first, if we take a closer look at the long way technology has come within the translations industry, we’ll begin to wonder whether such professionals might actually have something to worry about.

Tom Kawa, who has been working as a professional translator for the last 20 years, and today works with some of the fastest growing translation agencies in the United Kingdom, such as the London based Translation Services 24, says that ‘Technology without a shadow of a doubt affects the translation industry. Changes we see in how linguists and businesses work today are undisputable.’

Google Translator, one of the leaders within widely available, free translation software is a perfect example of this. Google, over the recent years, has continuously developed its language technology and now have extremely high accuracy, even when tested with complex materials, thanks to its own language learning algorithms.

There are, of course, also other translation and interpreting apps, some free whilst other come at a price, which can translate both written text and spoken word fairly accurately and rather fast.

With advanced software come advanced devices. And so, a number of companies and technology start-ups now offer ‘instant translations’ whilst you holding a conversation. Of course, Google is also trying to conquer this market with their very own interpreting device.   

Although the language technology has advanced tremendously over the last years, it still remains primarily considered only for private use by the users. Whether it’s to communicate with friends and family or to be able to understand more during international escapades, devices such as Pixel Buds or free translation software aren’t widely used within the corporate environment.

Here, the human linguists still reign.

To understand why, we must take a closer look at the commercial world.

Here, even the smallest mistake in a translation can prove to be extremely costly. If a slogan, advertisement or a business website contains any type of an error, a company might lose not only money & sales directly, but the situation would also be potentially brand-damaging in the long-term.  

Companies, regardless of their size, simply trust human linguists more as although the translation takes longer, the accuracy and reliability are still significantly higher.

There is also another reason why human translators should feel fairly secure when it comes to translating for the corporate world, and that’s their creativity.

Regardless of how accurate the software and machines will get; they will always lack the creativity and intuition of a human linguist.

In many cases, translating business or marketing materials isn’t as straightforward as you might expect. Often, not only the message must be adjusted, but in some cases, it must be complete re-written, without losing its original meaning.

Human translators can also understand your target market and the drives behind it, which allows them to create messages and translations which are suitable specifically for the potential customers.

Consumer behaviour can be directly or indirectly affected by a number of different factors including political climate, religion or history and customs. An accurate translation isn’t a simple word-for-word transformation, but it must also take into the account all of the above aspects. 

Professional linguists, when crafting a translation, often look much deeper than only the linguistic accuracy. In some markets, colours, images and customs play an incredibly important part and a can be as important as words.

Machines quite simply do not have the ability to understand human emotion, and as marketing and business materials very often are based on emotion, only another human being will be able to accurately interpret and translate those into another language and make sure the material affects people and their sentiments in the way the company intended.

There is no doubt that the technology advancements affect translation and language industry in one way or another, just like any other business sector. Nonetheless, human translators shouldn’t fear. Linguists, especially those working in creative fields and marketing, can offer much more than simple ‘accurate translation’. Creativity, knowledge of the target market, understanding the human emotion etc. are all aspects which must be included in a good translation. And there is a huge difference between an ‘accurate’ and a ‘good’ translation.

Often, although the translation is accurate, it simply doesn’t work within the chosen country. A good translation, once all of the above factors are taken into the account, affects consumer behaviour and human emotion in the way a business intended – and that’s something machines will never be able to achieve.

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