Google (Machine) Translate vs. Human Translator

Today more and more tasks that were once done by humans are being done by software. This is even true of language related tasks such as transcription and translation. How does software performance hold up when compared with human performance? In this article, we will attempt to answer that question by comparing Google Translate and human translation. Read on to learn more.

Information for this article is based on a study recently undertaken by Verbal Link, a professional translation service. The company ran a series of tests pitting a human translator against Google Translate using identical materials. In the first test, the human translator and the software program were both tasked with translating sales marketing materials for the bee-keeping industry from Spanish to English. The results showed that while the human translator produced an easy-to-read English version that conveyed both the general and specific meaning of the materials, Google Translate provided only a broad overview that was somewhat garbled and lacking in coherence.

When tasked with translating the presentation of a Spanish-speaking presenter, both the human translator and the software began by transcribing the Spanish and then translating it into written English. The final documents were wildly different because, unlike the human translator, Google Translate could not interpret nuances of human speech. It did not know what to do with words that were repeated or mispronounced. This resulted in a final document that was an indecipherable mix of Spanish and English. The human translator was naturally able to pick up on the speaker’s quirks of speech and idiosyncratic pronunciation and was therefore able to interpret accurately and produce clean, readable copy in English.

These two tests made it clear that there are big and significant differences in the skills of a human translator and translating software. Machine translators are not able to adjust for individual speaker traits. Nor are they able to comprehend and correctly interpret topic related humor or idioms and idiosyncrasies that are specific to culture. Machine translation simply substitutes a word in one language for a word in another language. Human translation conveys intent and meaning.

Although it is very clear that a human translator is far superior to translation software in many ways, this does not mean that there is no place for this software. Human translators can be expensive to hire and are not readily available at every moment of the day and night. In this day and age when people are communicating with one another around the globe 24/7, having an automatic, free translation service can come in very handy.

Google Translate is a good tool to use for chatting on a message board, getting the general idea of a news story in another language and generally understanding information that is not presented in your native tongue. It is not a good option for translating legal documents or negotiating deals. For important and potentially risky endeavors such as this, it would certainly be wise to hire a professional human translator.

Google (Machine) Translate vs. Human Translator