Sep 142010
 

Will Computers Replace Translators? tranfree 73

Editorial

I received some feedback about last month’s “email reliance” article. Some good points were raised, so I thought I’d share them.

  • Skype and Yahoo Messenger can be used for direct peer to peer file sharing. This is a useful backup if email systems are misbehaving.
  • Sites like yousendit.com can also be used for delivery of large files.

Thanks to Marie-Hélène Hayles for raising these points. smile

Touch Typing

I’ve been helping my son to learn to touch type over the summer. He’s 8 now and I felt it a good idea for him to learn properly now before he learns, the “wrong” way. It’s been hard work, but worth it. He’s now the proud owner of an Acer ONE netbook.

I also got interested in the idea of touch typing and I went through the program as well (http://www.kaz-type.com/). I’ve managed to get myself up to 23 words per minute and 98% accuracy. But it still feels really slow. So, for a bit of fun, I decided to do the speed test my “normal” way.

I was a bit blown away by the results. I managed 82 words per minute and 99% accuracy typing my way, using about three fingers on each hand. I didn’t know I could type that fast. To be honest, it makes me wonder whether it’s actually worth persisting with the touch typing? I don’t really feel like giving up, but that’s a short-term potential productivity cut of over 75%. 82 words per minute is good enough for most applications. But it would be nice to be able to type that fast without looking – and that’s why I hope to persist.

I hope you enjoy and benefit from tranfree smile

Alex

Alex Eames
tranfree editor, Author –
How to Earn $80,000+ per Year as a Freelance Translator and
Selling Your Professional Services on the Web



Will Computers Replace Translators?

By Alex Eames

It seems that, every year, our lives become increasingly enmeshed with our computers. Unless we rebel by going to live in a swamp somewhere with no electricity, that looks set to increase rather than decrease.

Last week I renewed our house insurance policy. One of the items covered in the accidental damage section was £2500 GBP worth of electronic downloads – that’s a sign of the times.

After my brief review of GT4T in the last tranfree, it seems clear that some translators feel threatened by the existence of free machine translation (MT) in the form of Google Translate.

Computers Acting Up?

It looks as if professionals in other areas are also feeling threatened by the ever-increasing proliferation of advanced computer software. A recent BBC article about animation and motion capture (a way of recording and simulating human and animal movement) had this to say…

“Some of the biggest movies of the last few years haven’t
actually featured any actors in the flesh.
Is technology stealing their limelight?”

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-11025543

Having said that the results of computerised motion capture are not good enough, the technical director of DreamWorks said…

“You want expressiveness, you don’t want
literal translation. It’s come a long way but in terms of using it for animated films it’s not what we’re looking for.”

And this gives a very interesting parallel with human versus machine translation. In the main, the results of MT simply aren’t good enough.

Human Threats?

We are living in interesting times. Virtually everyone has a computer and access to the internet. Add to that the fact that many people find themselves out of work in these economically challenging times of the “post greed” era. It’s not surprising that many people with language skills hit upon the idea of earning some money doing translations. So there are more human providers entering the marketplace.

Add in the global economic squeeze and you find companies trying to minimise costs, either to stay in business or make (more) profit.

So it’s hardly surprising that some companies might be sorely tempted to cut their short-term costs by using Google Translate. It’s human nature. They will try this. And let’s be honest with ourselves, for some applications, it is perfectly appropriate. Human translation is expensive – that’s the point of translatortips.com after all – to help you juice the full worth out of your translation skills. You can’t have it both ways. You want human translation to be expensive!

MT Has Its Place.

Some of you may not like this, but machine translation definitely has a place in the mix.

MT might be useful for assessing which portions of a large document need translating properly, or for getting the gist of what’s written. But unless the documentation has been written for MT in the first place, it’s unlikely to be usable for any other purpose.

But now for the good news. I hope you’re listening…

The kind of clients who would be looking at cost cutting in this way are not the kind of clients who would want to pay you decent rates, on time, and treat you well. Yes. These are not the clients you want. So don’t worry about the lost opportunity. Just as you can’t compete with 2 cent per word translators in low wage economies, you can’t compete with MT either. So don’t even try. Forget about that market segment and concentrate on clawing your way up to the top end.

You Don’t Want To Work For Idiots Do You?

I remember when I was an employee. It didn’t suit me at all. The boss was an idiot. I realised that the only (legal) way to eliminate the idiot was to become my own boss. People who want free or cheap translations of important documents using MT are idiots. You don’t want to work for them. They see you as an over-expensive bilingual typist. So, if you don’t want those kind of clients anyway, why is Google Translate a threat? Put simply, I don’t really think it is. It’s in your head. In the long term, I expect it will generate even more work for human translators.

Worthwhile Clients

At university, one of my roommates was studying marketing, which I found much more interesting than analytical chemistry. I remember commenting on a TV advertisement – saying how unappealing I thought it was. My roommate’s reply was a bit of a revelation…

“It probably wasn’t designed to appeal to you.”

…and this is a mistake many people make. Not every potential client is a client worth having. Some clients will not be profitable. Some will. Which do you want? The ones who will value your services, or the others?

So we have a few challenges in the global translation market…

  • Increasing numbers of “wannabe” translators
  • MT causing a decrease in the perceived value of translation
  • Economic squeeze causing a “get it done cheaper” mentality

So What’s To Be Done?

What can you do about it? Actually, I think there’s very little you can do about this apart from focus on your own area. But here’s a few suggestions…

  • Only accept profitable work
  • Educate clients and potential clients, but be discerning how much time you spend on this
  • Look at market trends, but don’t obsess about them.

You don’t need the whole global translation market to grow and thrive.
You only need your business to grow and thrive. (Although it will obviously be easier in a buoyant market.)

That reminds me of the two guys in the bear forest. One says to the other…

“Can you run faster than a bear?”

The other guy pauses for thought and replies…

“I don’t need to run faster than a bear.
I only need to run faster than YOU!”

Terminator Scenario

Avatar was one of the films (mentioned in the BBC article) that didn’t use actors “in the flesh” on screen. So it’s ironic that another James Cameron film – The Terminator –  paints an apocalyptic picture of a time when the computers take over and see humans as a threat. That’s a long way off. But let’s keep a cautious eye on what they’re doing without wasting  too much time watching our backs.

So let’s look forwards, get out there, find some real clients with real business needs and meet them.

Alex Eames is the founder of translatortips.com, editor of tranfree and author of the eBooks…

How to Earn $80,000+ Per Year as a Freelance Translator
and
Selling Your Professional Services on the Web
ISSN 1470-3866

***End of issue 73***

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