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Machine Translation vs. Human Translation

By Memrise Blog

Okay Google, what is Hello in Yoruba? With Google Translate you will definitely get the answer in microseconds. It’s Pẹlẹ o. For such uncommon languages like Yoruba and for such common phrases like hello, Google Translate and other online translators are the best. They are fast, cheap and the risk of translating a basic word wrong is low. But what about long documents that require content-based and accurate translation? Can we trust machine based translators with important documents? It is indeed a hard question to answer on top of your head so let us take a look at numbers and facts to shed light on this question, shall we?

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Human translators have been around since the second millennium BCE, and their role in society was immense. Hundreds of peaceful negotiations and agreements between countries were possible due to translators. Well, this was thousands and hundreds of years ago when people did not have internet and access to online translators. It is so, but the role of human translators still remains as important. Unlike machine translators, humans can ensure high accuracy, and they do not do word-by-word translations. Content, etymology and idiomatic knowledge are absolute essentials of accurate translations. Can online translators do this? 9 out of 10 times NO. Human translators have these skills; they know exactly whether they should paraphrase the text or translate it literally that is to say metaphrase.

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How many languages do you think there are? The answer might surprise you –  as of 2009 there are 6,909 distinct languages. World’s most used online translator Google Translate has a database of just 103, for those who love percentages, it’s only 1.5% of all existing languages. The point is human translators do not have language limits, whereas machines do. But not everything in the garden is rose, human translation is time-consuming, and costs money. On average the translation of 1 word equals to $0.11, which means the translation of a short 600-word article will cost you $66. Machine translations, on the other hand, are free and quick. Furthermore, you can access them 24/7.

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Human translators can translate one language at a time while machines can translate multiple languages at once. This is especially applicable for travelers, as a matter of fact, Google Translate has been included in the list of Smartphone Apps for Travelers. When talking about Machine Translations we all think of Google Translate first, for one thing, it is the most famous one with more than 500 million users worldwide. It is a huge number compared to human translators: over 330,000 translators internationally which is just 0.0045% of the world population. Google Translate translates 100 billion words per day if we convert it to hours it is 41,666,666 words per hour, in comparison 250 words per hour are translated by professionals. If we continue the calculations, we can easily see that if we gave the job done by Google Translate to professionals they would have daily jobs of 10,000 words which multiplied by $0.11 is $1100 a day.

The dilemma of Machine Translation vs. Human Translation is basically Quality vs. Quantity. You no longer need to hire an interpreter while traveling to Italy, Spain or France. All you need is an internet connection and a translation app. However, using an online website to translate an important formal letter is never a good idea.

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Varduhi Mesropyan is the Marketing coordinator at Quickly Translate, and is passionate about languages, most of all finding similar words in different languages. He is fluent in Russian, English, and French, and a beginner in German and Spanish. His next big challenge is to tackle a language that isn’t from the Indo-European language family. He just can’t make up his mind about which one(s)!