Finger hoovering over keyboard key saying "translation"

For casual, quick translations, there is no doubt that machine translation such as Google Translate is a positive, disruptive force in international communication. There is incredible value in being able to get the gist of statements in another language.

As impressive and useful as this technology is, however, it lacks many of the basic tools a human brain applies to conversation and written language. What machine translation accomplishes through very literal interpretations of simple words and phrases often obscures the nuance and even the basic, intended meaning within.

Here are a few key points on the value of professional interpreters compared to Google Translate or other machine translation services:

  • Machine translation can only do part of the job. Machine translation is quick to finish its job, but not always correct in every setting, especially in business and education. In situations where a machine translation cannot phonetically explain the situation, a real person can provide more than just words. After all, a lot can be said in a few words – and an interpreter can truly share their intended meaning.
  • Slang moves faster than machine translation learns. This is an issue that is actively being addressed by Google, but even the new neural network approach to machine translation is unable to keep up with the constantly evolving nature of national or even international slang, to say nothing of local dialects and sub-culture jargon. In contrast, interpreters, as live translators, apply current cultural experiences and insider terminology to their work, ensuring the most accurate translation of intent from one language to another. This is especially key for vocal translations, where local accents and dialect can confuse machine translation applications and lead to unintelligible output that an interpreter can easily communicate properly.
  • The literal nature of machine translation obscures meaning. Even with source text or speech that is clear, in that it uses dominant dialects, avoids technical jargon or slang, and communicates in a way that is obvious to native speakers, machine translation has no ability to properly contextualise many phrases from one language to another. It can’t choose the correct meaning in situations where words or phrases have more than one meaning. Nor can it take into account tone, connotation or forms of physical expression. Interpreters operate beyond literal meaning, and apply their deep knowledge of the culture behind the language, the idioms and common sayings native to it, to find accurate, equivalent ways to communicate that in another language.
  • Professional and polished image for your business or organisation. While you may get the general idea of what the other person means to say using machine translation tools, you won’t get the full picture, or worse, will get a misconstrued picture of what the speaker intended to say. Not only would this negatively impact the success of your meetings or business dealings, it could also tarnish your professional image.

Machine translation is a fantastic tool that is only the first step for building solid lines of communication between speakers of different languages. As a supplement it is best used as a compass pointing towards meaning, while interpretation is the means to providing accurate, localised intent.

With Skiwo, you can get help from a real person who can provide answers and not just statements. As an open, online marketplace, we provide a global pool of interpreters and an all-in-one tool for managing and holding interpretation sessions. Just post the details of your session and you can choose the most suitable interpreter for your needs. It’s free to sign up, you only pay after a successful interpretation session.

If you would like to stay in touch, follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Skiwo’s mission is to connect the best interpreters with everyone that needs them!

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