In the realm of language and communication, the art of translation stands as a bridge, connecting cultures, ideas, and people across the globe. As technology continues to advance, the landscape of translation has undergone a transformative evolution, with human translation now being joined by a significant increase in the use of both machine translation and post-editing.

But how are these different?

What are their pros and cons?

And when should you use which?

We’re going to look into all of that here, as we delve into the differences between these three approaches, dissecting their pros and cons, examining realistic use cases, and concluding with a comparison that brings everything together.

In part 1, we’ll start by comparing the pros and cons of human translation and machine translation. For part 2, we’ll share how post-editing can stand as a bridge between these two translation methods, along with what content is suitable for each one.

Why is human translation still good?

Human translation can simply be described as linguistic artistry meeting cultural finesse.

Human translation, often considered the traditional and time-honored method, involves the meticulous work of skilled linguists. These individuals, fluent in both the source and target languages, bring a depth of understanding, cultural sensitivity, and linguistic artistry to their craft. A human touch allows for the adaptation of idiomatic expressions, the preservation of cultural nuance, and the seamless conveyance of emotions.

Pros:

1. Contextual Understanding
One of the most significant advantages of human translation lies in a translator's ability to grasp the contextual nuances of a language. Human translators can discern the subtleties of idiomatic expressions, cultural references, and varying tones, ensuring that the translated text maintains the intended meaning and emotional resonance.

2. Cultural Sensitivity
Languages are deeply intertwined with culture, and human translators bring cultural sensitivity to the table. They understand the cultural connotations of words and phrases, helping to avoid potential misunderstandings or offensive translations. This cultural acumen is invaluable in fields such as marketing, where a nuanced understanding of the target audience is essential.

3. Specialists
Human translators are frequently specialized in specific domains, becoming specialists in the realms of legal, medical, technical, or literary translation. This expertise ensures accuracy and precision, particularly in industries where specialized terminology or jargon is abundant.

4. Creative Adaptation
In creative works like literature or marketing content, human translators excel in adapting the source material creatively. They can capture the essence of a text beyond simply its literal meaning, and convey that in a way which resonates with the target audience. This creative adaptation is one of the things that machine translation systems still struggle to replicate.

5. Quality Control
Human translators provide what is essentially a basic form of built-in quality control. They can review and revise their own work, ensuring that the final product meets with the highest standards of accuracy and fluency. This level of quality control is especially crucial in fields where precision is paramount, such as legal or medical translation.

Cons:

1. Time and Cost
Human translation is often time-consuming and can be expensive. Skilled translators may require ample time to produce high-quality translations, and their services come at a premium. For large-scale projects or for businesses on a tight budget, this can be a significant drawback.

2. Limited Scalability
Human translation struggles to keep up with the demands of a rapidly evolving global landscape. As the need for translation services grows, scalability becomes a challenge. It's not always feasible to have a team of human translators on standby for immediate, large-scale translation projects.

3. Availability and Accessibility
Finding qualified human translators for less common languages or specialized fields can be challenging. This lack of availability and accessibility can hinder communication in niche industries or regions.

4. Subjectivity
Every translator brings a degree of subjectivity to their work. This subjectivity can influence the interpretation of a text, leading to variations in translations. While this subjectivity can add a richness to creative works, it can also pose challenges in more technical or legal domains where precision and accuracy are paramount.

Machine translation brought about by the rise of artificial intelligence

Machine translation, propelled by the advent of artificial intelligence (AI) and deep learning, introduced a paradigm shift to the dynamics of translation. This method involves the automated translation of text from one language to another, relying on nothing but computational power and vast datasets. Modern machine translation, driven by complex algorithms, excels in handling large volumes of text at a rapid pace.

Pros:

1. Speed and Efficiency
One of the most touted advantages of machine translation is its speed. Machine translation systems can process vast amounts of text in a fraction of the time it would take a human. This rapid turnaround is particularly beneficial for time-sensitive projects or in situations where immediate communication is essential.

2. Cost-Effectiveness
Machine translation is often more cost-effective, especially for large volumes of content. While initial setup costs for advanced machine translation systems can be high, the ongoing cost per word is generally lower than hiring human translators. This cost-effectiveness makes machine translation an attractive option for businesses with budget constraints.

3. Availability and Consistency
Machine translation systems are available 24/7, providing a level of accessibility and consistency that human translation may struggle to match. This is especially advantageous for businesses with global operations that require continuous translation services across different time zones.

4. Scalability
Machine translation excels in scalability. As the volume of content increases, machine translation systems can handle the load effortlessly. This scalability is a key factor in meeting the translation needs of large enterprises or online platforms with vast amounts of user-generated content.

5. Continuous Improvement
Modern machine translation systems often incorporate machine learning algorithms that allow them to learn from their mistakes and improve over time. As more data becomes available, these systems can refine their translations, leading to continuous improvements in their accuracy.

Cons:

1. Lack of Contextual Understanding
One of the primary challenges facing machine translation is its limited ability to grasp the contextual nuances of a language. Machine translation systems can struggle with idiomatic expressions, cultural references, and ambiguous language, leading to inaccuracies in the translated text.

2. Cultural Insensitivity
Machine translation lacks the cultural sensitivity that is inherent in human translations. It may not recognize the cultural connotations of certain words or phrases, potentially leading to translations that are tone-deaf or even offensive in certain contexts.

3. Creativity and Adaptation
Creative adaptation, a strength of human translators, remains a challenge for machine translation. Machines may struggle to capture the artistic nuances of literary works or the persuasive flair of marketing content, resulting in translations that lack the finesse of human-generated content.

4. Quality Control Challenges
Machine translation may produce accurate translations in some cases, but it lacks the inherent quality control mechanisms of human translators. Post-editing by a human is often required to ensure the final output meets the desired standards of accuracy and fluency.

Summary

In this post, we compared the pros and cons of human translation and machine translation. As you can see, both have good qualities but they are very different. For part 2, we’ll share how post-editing can stand as a bridge between these two translation methods, along with what content is suitable for each one.

Kawamura's translation services

Kawamura International offers translation services in fields such as IT, medical devices, legal, finance, and patent, supporting more than 40 languages.

We provide consulting on the effective use of machine translation with post-editing services along with human translation services to meet the various needs of our customers. Not only that we also handle a variety of language-related services, such as editing and localization services of video and audio data.

Get in touch with us if you need professional translation services or have any other questions about translation and localization services in general.