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Human translators: Masters of subtleties and their crucial role in translation

Updated: Sep 14, 2023

Machine translation (MT) is far from perfect. It cannot capture the context or subtleties of a language. On the other hand, this is precisely the areas in which human translators excel. Human intervention in the translation process guarantees accurate, culturally appropriate translations—a feat that machines alone cannot achieve.

Digital robot hand and human hand touching a human brain digital depiction
AI in Translation

The contribution of language professionals to the translation process offers many advantages, including:

- Accuracy: Human translators are trained to be precise and have the expertise and linguistic knowledge needed to guarantee accurate and consistent translations. A human translator can translate texts with multiple possible interpretations, going beyond simple word choice and grammatical accuracy to capture the right tone and nuances. With regard to interpretation, a human can pick up on the meaning of what the speaker is trying to convey by taking into account his or her tone and facial expressions.

- Cultural sensitivity: Human translators are keenly aware of cultural differences and ensure that translations are culturally appropriate. Different cultures have different ways of expressing themselves, and MT platforms are not always able to understand and interpret these differences.

- Creativity: Human translators can take a creative approach to texts, making them more convincing and appealing to readers.

- Adaptability: Language professionals have the ability to adapt to the dynamic nature of language and make judgments based on their experience.

The many advantages that human translation brings to MT can be summarized in one word: quality.


Marie-Claire Kennedy, an OTTIAQ-certified translator/editor and member of BG Communications’ team of language professionals, shared her views on the topic: “Artificial intelligence (AI)-powered machine translation (MT) has certainly come a long way in a relatively short period of time. Given the complexities inherent to natural language, the output of certain AI-powered MT tools that are readily available to the public is impressive. That being said, these tools also fall short—often in unexpected ways—making critical mistakes that a native speaker or trained translator would easily avoid. More concretely, AI-based MT has trouble with a wide variety of tasks that humans can more easily perform, such as parsing complex sentences, compensating for mistakes or ambiguity in the source language, making judgment calls regarding homographs (words that are written the same way but that have a completely different meaning) based on inference from context, adapting colloquialisms, using culturally relevant examples, metaphors, and analogies, and selecting the appropriate tone and style based on the target audience and the message’s intent and desired impact. These are just some of the areas with which AI still struggles and that require the intervention of a trained translator.”

Some concrete examples where MT tools may not be accurate or appropriate include the following:

- Legal documents: Legal documents require a high degree of accuracy, and MT tools may not be able to capture the nuances of legalese.

- Medical documents: Medical documents require a high degree of specialization and involve extremely complex, industry-specific terminology that MT tools may not be able to properly contextualize. Documents such as medical records, scientific studies, drug dosages, and medical documents in general all raise significant civil liability considerations. With that in mind, leaving their translation to a single MT tool poses great risk for patients, healthcare professionals, and society as a whole.

- Marketing materials: Marketing materials need to be culturally appropriate, and MT tools may not be able to decipher the nuances of different cultures. As an example, the translation of KFC’s famous slogan “Finger-Lickin’ Good” went awry in the late 1980s, when the company wanted to expand into China and the slogan was incorrectly translated into Chinese as “eat your fingers off.”

In light of these complexities, human involvement in the translation process is essential to ensure that translations are accurate, natural, and culturally appropriate. While AI-powered MT platforms are a valuable tool for increasing productivity and shortening turnaround times, they should not be used without the help of human translators. The intervention of a language expert in the process will always increase the quality of translated texts and ensure that the content is clear and meets established communication objectives.


About BG Communications

BG Communications International Inc. is a renowned Montréal-based translation firm that has been providing professional linguistic services for over 25 years. We are focused on delivering world-class service and an outstanding customer experience to help our clients prosper on the international market with various language audiences. Our services include translation, interpreting, desktop publishing, proofreading, linguistic adaptation, transcreation, localization of multilingual websites, content creation, social media management, language courses and overall linguistic support.

For more information:

+1 514 376 7919 | +1 800 870 7919

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