How Does Machine Translation Work? – Speak Your Language
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How Does Machine Translation Work?

What Is Machine Translation?

Machine translation is a process whereby text is automatically translated from one language to another via a computer program. Because machine translation is an automated process, it can be used to translate large volumes of text without human input. While this sounds great in theory, anyone who has used Google Translate will know that machine translation also has its drawbacks.

Types Of Machine Translation

It may surprise you that there are actually multiple types of machine translation that use different processes to produce translations. The four different machine translation types are:

  • Rules-based machine translation
  • Statistical machine translation
  • Neural machine Translation
  • Syntax-based machine translation

Rules-Based Machine Translation

Rules-based machine translation is the original form of machine translation, which uses grammatical rules to translate text. In simpler terms, it takes the given text and applies grammatical knowledge of the source/target language to create the translated content. This process can produce a lot of errors in translation and generally requires a lot of human input to create a high-quality translation. However, this simple machine translation method can be handy when only the general gist of the source text is required, or when very small sections of text are being translated.

Statistical Machine Translation

Statistical machine translation works by drawing on large volumes of bilingual content to create a statistical model of the relationships between words, phrases and sentences. This allows the program to determine the correspondence between a word from the source language and a word from the target language and chooses a translation that is the most statistically likely. Statistical machine translation is generally more accurate than rules-based machine translation, but it is still prone to errors. Particularly due to its inability to take context into consideration when translating.

Syntax-Based Machine Translation

Syntax-based machine translation is a type of statistical machine translation. But rather than using individual words or strings of words, syntax-based translation uses syntactic units (word or group of words that functions as a single unit). The idea of using syntactic units rather than individual words is to increase the accuracy of the translation, although this form of translation is still prone to errors.

Neural Machine Translation

The most advanced type of machine translation is neural machine translation, which uses artificial intelligence to ‘learn’ languages. It uses neural networks that are based on the human brain to constantly evolve by integrating new information to improve the quality of the translation. Neural machine translation provides the most accurate machine translation currently available. However, though this technology is impressive, it cannot yet substitute human translation.

Machine Translation Benefits

There’s no doubt that machine translation is an extremely useful tool. Some of the key benefits include:

  • Fast Turnaround Time: No matter how fast a human translator works, the translation is never instant. Machine translators can translate large volumes of text instantly
  • Scalability: When it comes to the quantity of text you’re translating, the sky is the limit when you’re using machine translation. Machine translation can produce fast translations for even an entire book or research paper
  • Cost-Effective: The most obvious benefit that machine translation provides is low cost. Even sophisticated machine translation services are significantly cheaper than human translators because ultimately the work is being done by a computer
  • Accessible: Machine translation is easily accessible by everyone

Machine Translation Disadvantages

Machine translation also has significant disadvantages, which means it isn’t appropriate for all translation jobs. The key disadvantages of machine translation are:

  • Translating Slang: Informal and colloquial language can be difficult for machines to understand, which often leads to confusing mistranslations
  • Translating Complex Information: When content is complicated, the smallest errors in translation can render entire paragraphs of information impossible to understand
  • Unnatural Text Flow: Machine translated text can be easily identifiable as it often sounds stilted and unnatural. It is difficult for machine translation to capture the natural flow and idiosyncrasies

When Should I Use Machine Translation?

If you need content translated for professional use, you will almost always need to engage a human translator at some point in the process. However, machine translation can be useful in the right context. Factors to consider when deciding between human and machine translation include:

  • Content-Type: Creative information where the nuances of meaning are important is almost never suitable for machine translation. However, extremely straightforward is usually suitable for machine translation.
  • Content Tone: If the tone or style of your text is important, you will definitely need a human translator to review and edit the machine-translated text. As mentioned, machine-translated text can sound robotic, so a human touch is usually required to capture your desired tone.
  • Content Volume: If the volume of the text that needs to be translated is fairly small, the cost of having it translated by a human will not be significant. However, if you have a large volume of text to translate, machine translation may be the best option depending on your budget.
  • Audience: If the text needs to be consumer-facing, it will need input from a human translator to appear professional and seamless. If the text simply needs to be understood (e.g. for internal use only) and the flow or tone isn’t important, machine translation may suffice.
  • Project Deadline: Human translation takes time while machine translation is almost instant. If you have an extremely tight deadline, machine translation may be more suitable.

Most modern machine translation uses artificial intelligence software to instantly translate text from one language to another. While it can be extremely useful, it can be very prone to errors. If you need high-quality translation services, contact Speak Your Language today.