Skip links

Being a Translator: Then and Now

From the beginning of time, ever since men started using language to communicate, translators and interpreters were responsible for connecting the dots: from concluding agreements to peace treaties, from drawing borders to writing down history; wherever communication had to be facilitated between people speaking different languages, there was a translator. Skilled interpreters where valued for mediating high-level political, cultural and diplomatic relations between different countries, so, naturally, they held high value and prestige. But what about today? Times have changed, and language is no longer seen as a barrier, but rather a tool for communication between different peoples from all over the world. Digital technologies and tools can help translate anything into just about any language. And then there is talk that the work of translators will soon be completely replaced by artificial intelligence (AI). But what about the role of translators and interpreters today?

Meet artificial intelligence (AI)

If one thing is certain, it’s that you should always know your enemy, so let’s try to explain what artificial intelligence (AI) is. AI uses computers and machines to mimic the problem-solving and decision-making abilities of the human mind. It uses this knowledge to achieve specific goals and objectives. AI studies the intelligent behaviour of humans and tries to model it through computer technology. Today, AI has permeated every part of our lives: we use it in voice recognition, customer service (virtual assistants), and it is also used to analyse our consumption behaviour to decide which ads we’ll see, for example, on Facebook. AI is also used in translation, too, where it both challenges and drives the industry. Starting from learning foreign languages – a process which has become much more democratic and accessible via the use of various apps and language learning programmes.

The role of artificial intelligence in translation

One of the most visible manifestations of AI in the translation sector are CAT tools such as Trados, Memsource, Wordbee and others. They are used by language service providers, professional translators and companies which need to localise content. They also allow multinational corporations to provide customer and user support in their local language. CAT software combined with localisation software allows companies to tailor their products and services to specific geographic/cultural markets. CAT tools help translate texts quickly and more efficiently without compromising on quality.

Translator – the bridge between text and technology

The missing link in the chain between an AI-based CAT tool and the finished text in most cases is the translator. For example, the AI cannot comprehend context, therefore it is likely that the machine will translate a ‘party’ to a treaty as the ‘party’ with loud music and an array of drinks. There are numerous examples just like this one. Moreover, some nuances, for example, dialects, are simply too much for the machine to handle, not to mention texts such as novels, where the main emphasis is on the emotional saturation and beauty of the source text rather than its literal meaning. When we think about the future and the future translator, it is clear that those who’ll have learned to use AI to maximise the efficiency of their translation workflow and, most importantly, those who realise that machines and human translators can work hand-in-hand, will come out on top. For the purpose of translation remains the same – to use language as a tool which brings together people, businesses, and the entire world.

Find out more about the benefits of working with machine-translated texts as a linguist here.