What can professional Chinese translators and machine translators achieve together? As of this writing, the global machine translation (MT) service is one of the growing markets in the industry. It was forecasted to grow at CAGR of 23.53%
Technology is improving the translation process. On-demand translation-as-a-service business model and computer translators make it easier to translate the Chinese language to English and other languages. “With such expectations, it’s tempting to believe computers will soon translate well enough that there will be no need for human translators,” Jeremy Coombs of MultiLing
One of the famous computer translators (or MT) that are open and free to use is Google Translate. Google is using crowdsourcing by tapping the global community
to improve its database. From amateurs to pros to average Joes, everyone can freely contribute, correct, and translate words and phrases, which has become like an open-source project. Frankly, in the long run, there were improvements in “some” translations from Chinese to English and vice versa.
Humans and machines still do err
However, inconsistency remains. MTs have limitations on Chinese translations of business documents as well as localization of marketing collaterals like presentations, websites, brochures, and among others. There are B2B (Business-to-Business) companies that offer translation-as-a-service (TaaS) that target firms and individuals in need of quick and cheap translation of emails, notes, business letters, and among others. However, their formula isn’t surprising. These TaaS companies are utilizing computer and human translators for project deliverables.
Quality isn’t guaranteed. In fact, in any translation project, professional translators and even veterans in the industry confess that there’s no such thing as perfect or zero-error translations. There will always be loopholes even at 0.1%. Still, the Chinese language is one of the “untouchables” and “un-crackable” languages if it involves computer translation. It is one of the hardest to learn and at the same time, one of most challenging, yet fun to translate into English and vice versa.
There are three simple reasons why they can’t crack the Chinese language through algorithms and systems.
Computer translators don’t know the culture
If there’s one thing that remains constant and concrete in translation is the culture. Does Google Translate understand the culture of China? Does it know why the face is like a diamond when dealing with Chinese business partners? Can it gauge whether this phrase or word can suit the culture and lifestyle of this city or province?
However, with human translators: They can use machines or software to speed up the process. For example, at Limpid, the professional Chinese translators use a CAT tool, a computer program that can translate texts of documents faster and more efficiently. They can check whether a particular word or phrase is appropriate and suitable.
Computer translators don’t know the audience
Putonghua/Guoyu/Huayu is the standardized form of spoken Chinese based on the Beijing dialect of Mandarin. However, Guangdong, Hong Kong, and Macau natives speak Cantonese. Computer translators cannot detect these differences unless human translators take charge to polish and correct. On another note, though China is big, people from different regions speak other dialects, which should also be taken into consideration on Chinese voice-over.
However, with human translators: A professional translator can be an expert in either of the two major spoken languages or both. If one focuses on a niche audience, they can understand and relate to the culture, consumer habits, lifestyle, and even the words or phrases they use in a specific region.
Computer translators can’t read and translate all technical terms and abbreviations
In 2012, a large group of Chinese scholars were alarmed that Mandarin of Roman letter expressions had crept in the language, tainting its purity. “A group of Chinese academics are calling for everyday English-language abbreviations to be struck from the country's top dictionary – claiming they are the biggest threat to the Chinese language in a century,” Agence France-Presse in Beijing reported.
“A letter signed by more than 100 scholars condemned the inclusion of terms such as NBA (National Basketball Association) and WTO (World Trade Organisation) in the most recent Contemporary Chinese Dictionary.”
Unfortunately, neither computer translators nor professional translators can solve this issue, which remains like the elephant in the room (e.g., NBA, OEM, WTO and among others)
However, with human translators: Still on the quest to solve this issue. However, when it comes to professional localization and branding, overseas companies will choose a good route—like how LinkedIn was translated to “Ling Ying,” which means “leading elites.”
So one cannot simply work without the other; like Yin and Yang, they complement each other. When Professional Chinese translators utilize computer translators or MTs, then the process becomes much efficient and easier that leads to well-translated documents and projects. Moreover, as Jeremy Coombs puts it, the value of people remains despite the growth of the machine translation market.