Thursday, 21 January 2016

Why pay for something when you can get it for free?

The burning question: man versus machine

It would be naive to suggest that the Google Translate and other similar tools are not affecting the industry.

The internet is awash with hilarious mistranslations and young developers who don’t even speak languages themselves are creating apps which allow you to communicate with someone in another language.

So should you always use a human translator?

Of course we translators would rather you did but I'm going to explain the difference and let you decide.

Google Translate

GT and similar tools use different algorithms to mine translations which are already available on the internet. Most simply replace the words with an equivalent word in another language. Sometimes they get it right, or nearly right, and sometimes they get it so wrong it’s hilarious. If you just need the gist of a document then they can serve a purpose.

Machine translation

This is more sophisticated and is often used by companies who feed human translations into their systems for future use. It can really boost productivity when used in the right context and is post-edited by a translator.

The human advantage: the brain

Translation is about so much more than understanding the text and translating it word-for-word into another language. I particularly liked a saying I saw on social media recently:

"Translation starts where the dictionaries stop"

In other words, we translators add brain power, experience, a feel for the language and an understanding of context, which machine translation can't do.

But not all humans with brains – even exceptionally good bilingual brains – can produce great translations. That is why you need a professional.

My next post will help you find the right (wo)man for the job.

Meanwhile, do you have a translation experience to share? Feel free to tell us about it in the comments.

Busting the myths

If I were to ask you to visualise a typical translator would they look like this?

If you answered yes, then you wouldn’t be totally wrong… but you wouldn’t be totally right either.

Let me explain.

Rolling back the years

Back in the early 80s it was fairly common for translators to find employment with a company. Indeed, freelancing was still in its infancy.

Then in 1997, when I took the plunge into the world of  freelance, I worked almost exclusively for agencies and by working 9 to 5, five days a week, I could earn a decent(ish) living.

That was then…

Fast forward 30 years

Oh how the world of translation has changed!

In-house jobs are now few and far between and the arrival of the Internet has changed our lives considerably. Many translators have:
  • embraced social media
  • adopted one or more specialisms, and
  • ventured out from behind their computers.

-        So I thought it would be fun to spread the word and dispel a few myths.

Your questions answered

Have you ever wondered what it takes to be a translator?

Have you ever wondered what a translator does all day?

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to work with a translator?

Would it surprise you to meet a translator at your next industry event?

Would you like to know how to find a translator who is perfect for you?

Did you know that some translators offer additional services?

This blog aims to answer these questions and more... and you won’t just be hearing from me, either.

OK, I admit it. I love talking about what I do so I will permit myself a little self-indulgence. If you’ve ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes in the more creative side of translation, I’m your (wo)man.

But what does a financial, medical or technical translator do? What sort of clients do they work for? Where are you likely to meet them?

My colleagues who work in these fields will be only too happy to share their experiences with you so look out for the guest posts too.


Translators do spend a lot of time at their computers but they also love talking to each other and talking to you.We love learning about your industry and what you do.

Of course we love to work with words but we also love to solve language and communication problems. Your language and communication problems…

So, I hope you will sign up for the blog, engage in the debate and ask your own questions.