Translation in future is just tech talk

October 10, 2018

Shahd Alhamdan

Saudi Gazette

— The advancement of technology has brought about a major change in attitudes, approach and the way we do business in life, especially in the way we view the once-vaunted traditional brick-and-mortar stores and its services, which are being slowly being washed away by this raging digital tide.

Many of these traditional stores and services are playing catch up with innovative moves that strike a balance between the old and the new. But slowly some of these services, offered through exclusivity and individual expertise, are becoming a thing of the past and are being replaced by the growing number of clicks on these new devices.

Job service applications on mobile phones and tablet devices have outgrown the traditional posted mail with the email, stores such as travel agencies that provided multi services are battling the growing number of travel apps, and the retail business is too under threat with the rising number of app-related services that are encroaching every industry and reshaping the way services are being offered.

Amid this tech scenario, the question arises whether the increasing number of education apps in general and translations apps in particular, apart from the general basic Google Translation, are posing a threat to translation as a profession. In the Arab world, translation services are regarded as an expertise that brought the bilingual or multilingual translator not only laurels, but also money in the form of a job.

The advancement of technology, which has broken the language barrier and made it possible for people to communicate through application devices, is slowly loosening the grip of this exclusive band on translation with a range of apps that can be used to translate thoughts and words.

A traveler, not well versed in the language of the country he is visiting, is now able to communicate with locals, order food from menu and engage in a simple conversation. Technology got smarter and now people do not have to type in the word to be translated, as the new device can do it with a click as it has the ability to translate images and writings by taking a photo from their mobile phones.

Many, however, are of the view that this profession per say is here to stay. They are of the opinion that these smart applications are good for quick byte translations but will not replace professional translators, arguing that applications, such as Google Translate, does not give an accurate translation.

Professional translators interviewed in this report believe that these translation apps and devices still make major errors and they cannot replace humans. It is debatable that the jobs in the translation industry could be replaced by new software’s since thousands of translation applications are created every year, and still the profession is much sought after.

According to an article published by ‘Reportlinker’, the global machine translation market size is expected to reach $983.3 million by 2022. The technology is expected to offer opportunities to people for communicating and accessing information in a particular language.

Muhammad Ahmad, a senior translator in his 60s with more than 40 years experience in this field, explained that translation softwares and applications could help in translating a word or two but not a full text. He added that by using these technologies companies would face a lot of issues because the translated piece will have plenty of mistakes.

“The language of a document that is coming out from court, for example, is in a legalize that uses technical language that cannot be translated properly by any translation application and instead needs an experienced translator. The same can be said about complicated medical reports,” he added.

Afnan Abdulaziz, a translator graduate in her late 20s, said, “Translation apps or what we in the profession call Computer-Aided Translation have come a long way since they started. We have moved from apps giving only word for word equivalence to apps that can not only translate whole paragraphs and sentences but also translate speech like an interpreter does.”

She explained that many people might see that new technology replaces human labor but technology would not have existed without the humans behind it.

Abdulaziz added that professional translators have been using computer-aided technology and software such as Trados and Transifex long before Google Translate or other apps. “Commercial apps only made such technology accessible to most people. Such technology is not perfect yet but they are a great help to travelers and people who want to learn a language,” she said.

Abdulaziz expressed that she does not fear that her job as a translator will be replaced by new technology. She added, “Text still needs to be proofed and edited by someone who understands both source and target languages. The role of a translator may be redefined in the future, but for now we still have a long way to go before our jobs are fully automated.”

Rawan Abdulhaleem, is another junior translator in her 20s, who does not believe that computers or translation applications can replace the humans' ability to translate and understand texts. She believes that the computers or the applications are usually there to translate certain words and not full sentences.

However, in her opinion computers and translation applications can be useful tools when writing and they can help us in many things such as understanding the word’s meaning, finding synonyms and antonyms.

“Overall, computers can help translators carrying out translation tasks. On the other hand, we cannot depend totally on computers because computers will fail when we compare them to the human’s brain, which has the ability to understand the words between the lines and recognize the cultural differences,” she said.

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