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 Translations trends: A look at where we may be going

Despite the remarkable developments in MT and the translation process, further improvements to MT seem all the more daunting as one moves farther down Bly’s list of stages. The human judgment and wisdom required at these stages, rooted as they often are in social and cultural knowledge, seem complex to the point that they do not fit with ease into the flow charts of computer programming.

Literature, philosophy, sociology, law and any other areas of interest which are highly culture-dependent are beyond the scope of MT. It is true now, and will probably always be true.


Industry managers—especially those with little familiarity of translation or even a working knowledge of a second language—may be slow or even reluctant to accept it, because of human translators’ much higher cost and slower speed.

Striking a balance between quality and quantity is one of the greatest challenges faced by translators in the 21st century….the increase in volume has been accompanied by an increase in pressure on translators to work more quickly (while still maintaining high quality, of course!) in order to reduce the time-to-market of a global product.

Many translators have grown increasingly aware and anxious of machines taking over their jobs, while more and more technical writers have likewise grown increasingly aware and anxious of translators encroaching on technical writers’ jobs by becoming cross-trained.

As high technology developments change the roles of both professions, the resulting tensions come into sharp focus. The professional has to deal with two tensions. On the one hand, the intellectual act of translation remains the same and the translator still has to activate cognitive processes to turn raw intellectual capacities into behavior patterns that work in a complex universe in order to process and interpret information. On the other, the industry expects the translator to work in a global team, to accommodate his work to the latest technology, to put into practice the most advanced electronic publishing techniques, to understand the intricacies of translation software tools, to create and manage terminology databases and to keep the pace with market requirements.

The moment translation is no longer an isolated activity in the production process, the translator needs to retain full control of the different tasks and tools involved in translation so that interaction between the human and the machine is felt as a natural process. In order to ease this tension, the translator has to take on a central role and find a way to manage creativity and technology with a sound business practice.

Anyway, while there are many examples of translation errors caused by human translators, these pale in comparison with the errors of machine translation. And when an erring human combines with an erring machine, an amazing thing happens: the translation takes on a life of its own and the end result turns out to have no relation to the source text

However, it would be foolish to dismiss machine translation completely. When a sophisticated machine translation application is used with competence for a specific purpose, it can yield remarkable results.

More work for human translators would indeed be welcome, particularly as 2009 saw the teetering and near total collapse of the global economy and the manufacturing and production that require translated materials. In the meantime, translators are securing employment by expanding their repertoire of skills and performing tasks that used to be viewed as falling into the domain of other professionals.

Raído/Austermühl (2003: 229) observe, “As experts for intercultural technical communication, modern translators often double as technical writers, lexicographers, software testers, or cultural consultants.” The surveys conducted in both Europe and North America bear out that translators are doubling as technical writers in particular.

In a pattern of professional convergence, technical writers, especially in Europe, are increasingly seeking out cross-training so that they serve as translators.