With the considerable improvements Google translator has made over the years and with the introduction of other vocal translation apps, many (wrongly) assumed it wouldn’t be long before translators were out of a job.
Yet despite the staggering strides in translation tech (you can now just point your Android phone at Chinese text and it translates it in front of your eyes), a future where translation technology replaces professionals is still nowhere in view.
While translators have said that this is because: “machines do not give consideration to cultural differences” as opposed to humans, there are two other crucial reasons that these online tools will never replace professionals:
1. Translation technology is still flawed
While Google translation has come a long way over the years it is still flawed. Recently, Google corrected another couple of slightly comical issues:
- The term ‘Russian Federation’ was being translated into ‘Mordor’, yes that place from Lord of the Rings
- ‘Russians’ was being translated into ‘occupiers’
- and ‘Sergey Larvror’ was translated into ‘sad little horse’
While it isn’t Google Translate’s fault that this happens (owing to the complexity of words and their meaning in different contexts), it’s a reminder that tech won’t be replacing translators any time soon.
This particular example was text to text but the BBC has already shown that the vocal translator fails far more often, to the point that it cannot be relied on at all.
This means that vocal translation apps are even less likely to replace interpreters than text translators are to replace professional translators.
2. The translation sector continues to grow
In 2014 many felt that £140 million being spent on translators per year by the UK public sector was too much. Yet this is proof that translators continue to be critical in public services, from police work to hospital communication between patient and doctor. This seems to be especially true in multicultural cities like London where migration is extremely high.
Another fact to consider is that the US, and the UK, have proven to be behind in language learning compared to other countries. With English considered one of the most influential languages in the world, few English speakers see the need to learn anything else. This is likely to continue to mean a sustained demand for translation and interpretation services from English to other major languages.
‘Poetry is what gets lost in translation’
Whilst translation technology no longer fails as often as it used to and may eventually replace translators for the more mundane (or less nuanced) tasks, technology simply cannot be relied upon in professional situations such as political debates or in the public sector where “fairly good” can have serious ramifications.
Jargons, cliché sayings and even cultural jokes change their meaning depending on the context or current affairs they are used in and that is something only humans can create and keep up with.