The Value of A Human

Last week I had the pleasure of working directly with a client on a translation for use in court. They had homed in on a specific word, asking if it could plausibly be translated another way that would help them build their case. The original translator, and I as the editor, offered alternatives and evaluated options, ultimately having to reject the particular translation that the client had hoped for. And while I’m sure not being able to have the quote they wanted was a disappointment, this way they were spared the embarrassment of having their translation challenged and their argument undermined in court.

Now imagine what would have happened if the translation had been done by Google Translate, or another machine translation of your choice. Can you picture asking Google “how about if I translate it this way?” Can it evaluate your alternative? Can it consider the context of the full document and point out that while the word you suggest can’t be used their, the point you are trying to make is, in fact, supported and tenable?

And that’s leaving aside the fact that, according to its terms of service, Google Translate harvests the data from any text that’s entered into it, so it is an immediate breach of confidentiality…

This is why, for all the advances in machine translation, a human, especially a properly qualified human who is willing to communicate directly and answer follow-up questions, retains the upper hand when it comes to making sure communication is successful. So next time you find yourself in need of a translation, consider the value of the human.

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