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Exploring languages and cultures
Exploring languages and cultures

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5.5.2 The limits of computer translation

One advantage of using translating software is that it can deal with many more languages than any human ever could, and it can translate between them extremely quickly. In the early days of machine translation there was much excitement about the possibilities, but also some worry that eventually computers would replace human translators.

Activity 43

Complete the following statements about the advantages and limitations of machine translation.

Using the following two lists, match each numbered item with the correct letter.

  1. an idea of what a text is about.

  2. a polished final product that reads like an original.

  3. the grammatical and lexical information that is available.

  4. what makes sense in the given context.

  • a.An online translator can quickly give you …

  • b.The software will go by …

  • c.It will not give you …

  • d.A human translator would first and foremost look for …

The correct answers are:
  • 1 = a
  • 2 = c
  • 3 = b
  • 4 = d

Online translators are constantly improving as they access an ever-larger corpus of (human-generated) translations. As mentioned previously, this is why tools such as Google Translate work better for frequently translated languages, such as French, than for languages such as Urdu, where the corpus of translations is much smaller. Even so, quirky and unusual turns of phrase will continue to be a problem for translation software. Judging to what extent ‘equivalence of meaning’ has been achieved in a translation should always be left to a human language expert.