Why a professional translation service is worth paying for
“So, when are you going to be replaced by an app, then?” is something translators are asked at parties. From Skype to PowerPoint, Babbel to Google, tech geeks have been busy developing apps, plug-ins and even VR, in a bid to have us all communicating more effectively with fellow humans across the globe. So, when will linguists become obsolete?
In truth, professional translators and language service companies are a very long way off redundancy. In fact, the translation industry has not changed very much at all since the arrival of the internet, because as wonderful as technology is, you just can’t replace a trained linguist who is translating into his or her mother tongue with an app or plug-in. No matter how powerful a search engine is.
Horses for courses (and other idioms)
In October 2017, Google announced the launch of its latest translation tool, Google Pixel Buds. The translation software allows users to both listen to and speak in foreign languages when used with their smartphone. Press the ear bud and it translates a language into your mother tongue straight into your ear. To speak, you simply say: “Let me speak Italian” and the smartphone will automatically translate your words through the speakers. Hey, presto! Polyglots at the press of a button.
The reality, of course, is that it’s not so simple. A quick search (yes, using that search engine) throws up examples of users testing the in-ear translation service, often with hilarious results. Watch a few on YouTube if you want a giggle.
While you’re chortling at the “Drive to the mileage, turn right at the sunlight,” results thrown up when the ear buds tried to translate directions from English to Mandarin (the horse one is also funny), it’s a salutary reminder that there’s more to language than just vocabulary, grammar and syntax. What about rhetoric, sarcasm, humour, insult, idioms, local foibles, customs and culture? History, sport, socio-politics, religion and all the other elements of human life have an impact on how and what we say – and more importantly, perhaps, don’t say. Others agree: “Our technological advancement hasn’t yet conquered language sufficiently to allow flawless translation that takes account of meaning and context as well as actual word and phrase translation,” says writer Louise Taylor in her article about translation errors for Multi Lingual magazine.
What price accuracy?
Even the creators of translation technology concur: “Every language has its own way of describing the world. If you learn a new language, you usually also learn a new way of looking at the world,” Markus Witte, CEO of leading language-learning company, Babbel, told the Telegraph earlier this year. Witte is correct: which is why professional translation companies should only ever use mother tongue translators for a nuanced, accurate, appropriate translation.
“Translation tools often translate word-for-word,” says Robert Manik, Managing Director of Language Link UK. “They create a very literal response – which is often wrong. You can’t capture humour, warmth, tone. Often the resulting translations sound cold, overly formal or simply very unfriendly. Metaphors and similes don’t translate well from one language to the other, either. The result doesn’t resemble a spoken language: it’s disjointed and not the perfect representation of what’s being said or meant.”
Manik believes cutting corners for financial reasons can end up costing you dear in the long run. “In the past we’ve had clients who have run up huge bills and wasted a lot of man-hours correcting mistakes made by using an online translation service. The stress alone is huge: but how much does an incorrect or inaccurate translation cost those businesses in terms of loss of face or credibility?”
In truth, it’s almost impossible to quantify the cost when words go rogue. What is known is that the ramifications can be long lasting. From cultural embarrassment to ruined business relationships, the losses associated with not using a professional language service can also include:
- Litigation following technical inaccuracies
- Admin costs associated with having translations re-done and re-sending documents
- Time delays – resulting in lost sales
- Reputational damage
“You can’t put a price on having a timely, accurate, professional translation that’s been tailored to the target audience in an appropriate style and tone of voice,” says Robert Manik. “Our clients can relax knowing that not only are our translators expert linguists and mother tongue speakers, they are experts in their field, too.”
Robert Manik is Managing Director of the full-service translation and interpretation agency, Language Link UK Ltd. The company has access to over 5,000 professional linguists, collectively fluent in more than 200 languages/dialects. Call 01959 560 530 to find out more about their areas of business expertise.