Taming (tamed by) Machine Translation


No matter how hard I tried to avoid MT post-editing, this beast got me. And it proved to be just what I was feared. Here are the details:

In the evening I get an offer to edit by next morning about 3000 words of machined-translated descriptions of mountain bikes. I ask about the quality of translation – they say it is so-so, good in some parts and worse in the others. I look through the text, and indeed some parts are quite OK. I agree, first, because I have never tried such type of work before, and, secondly, 100 euro for this job would come in useful. My plan was to finish the job in about 4 hours, i.e. before midnight.

And that’s what came out of it. The good parts were good only because they were based on the TM from previous translations, done by human translators. The new ones were total gibberish, and all of them had to be re-translated, so the machine translation even hindered the work, because I had to delete it all the time and sometimes I forgot to do so. The job eventually took 8.5 hours. In fact it was not editing, but doing a translation from the scratch with the help of a TM, where only matches with previous translations could be proofread and corrected.

My conclusions: usefulness of machine translation systems as a tool that can speed up and facilitate translation is very restricted, and in most cases doubtful. And in fact it is just a way to lure a translator into doing a large amount at a very low rate. If this job was offered to me as a usual translation task, I would either refuse from taking the whole amount, having done a realistic evaluation of what I can do with this difficult and unfamiliar topic, or I would demand a higher rate for difficulty and urgency. It might be, that the agency who dumped me this job were really in a deadlock, lagging behind deadlines, and couldn’t invent anything smarter than handing over this load to translators. But next time, if a customer insists on doing MT post-editing instead of translation, I’ll agree only on condition of per hour payment. As the Russian proverb goes: “any whim for your money”.