How to get the most out of machine translation

Written on 1 July, 2022

Improvements in machine translation, including the significant developments we have seen in neural machine translation, have opened up a whole world of content for translation that may otherwise have never been translated. But, at the same time, we all understand the common pitfalls associated with this technology, including mistranslations, spelling and grammar issues and context-inappropriate translations being used. The good news is there are steps that a professional translation agency, such as Surrey Translation Bureau (STB), can take to help you get the most out of your machine translation content.

Machine translation

Post-editing machine translation

You will likely be aware that most language service providers (LSPs) offer some form of post-editing machine translation service. STB offers two post-editing services in line with the definitions outlined in our ISO 18587 certification: light post-editing and full post-editing.

ISO 18587 Feb 2022 Certificate

But why is post-editing necessary?

If you have ever read raw machine translation output you will be well aware that, despite all the improvements that have been made to this technology in recent years, raw machine translation (MT) output should only really be used for content that will never be seen by the public, such as internal documents where you just want to understand the gist. If you plan to publish any machine translated content, we would always recommend having it post-edited by a professional linguist. Overall, machine translation engines read the content you feed into them sentence-by-sentence and spew out individually translated sentences that may not have any bearing on the text that appears around them. As well as struggling with context within a piece of text, machines also struggle to accurately interpret cultural nuance. This could obviously have serious impacts on your brand identity in a certain market if you publish a piece of raw MT output that is not applicable for your target audience.

Light post-editing vs full post-editing

This is where professional linguists come in to help. Light post-editing can be used to tidy up the raw MT output to produce a translation that is understandable, factually accurate and grammatically correct. A good start, right? But, if you want a translation that has the benefits offered by machine translation, such as a faster turnaround and lower cost, combined with the quality you expect from a human translator, then full-post editing is the service for you. As part of full post-editing, a linguist will ensure that your translation is fully accurate, uses the correct terminology, has the appropriate tone of voice and style, and is free from any grammatical issues.

The handy table below should help you understand the different services a little better

Raw MT Light post-editing Full post-editing Human translation
Speed Fastest, thousands of words per hour Faster Fast Slower
Suitability Internal use only – to help understand a piece of source text. Internal documentation, non-complex files such as emails, FAQs etc. Publishable content, product documentation, websites, etc. Highly creative and complex files that require the human touch, e.g., marketing content.
Quality Very low Low High Highest
Cost Cheapest More expensive than raw MT as a professional linguist is involved but cheaper than human translation. More expensive than light post-editing but cheaper than human translation* Most expensive

Other MT services a translation agency can offer

File preparation

One of the main reasons why MT output can be so poor is down to the use of a poorly prepared source file that is to be fed into the engine. If your file is poorly prepared, the engine will struggle to re-assemble the elements of your text during machine processing, which can result in poor quality translations. This will also make life harder for the post-editor working on your file, as they will have to spend longer on your file to fix this output. LSPs can offer file preparation services to prepare your documents prior to processing in the machine, a step that can often result in lower total project costs despite a higher outlay at the start in terms of the costs for file preparation. But, we all know that proper preparation is key in all aspects of our lives, and translation is no exception.

Your LSP can also check through your file to see if there are any areas of the text that do not even need to be fed into your engine. These may be long lists of names or sections of your file that only contain numbers or filler text that you don’t need to see in your translated output.

A professional translation company can help you get the most out of machine translation

So, if you are looking to take advantage of the benefits of machine translation but are concerned about the potential downsides, the good news is we are here to help and can offer a wide range of services that we can tailor to your specific needs to ensure you get the best-possible output from your machine translation engines.

Get in touch with our award-winning team today!

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Written by Greg Hyne