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Machine translation: how not to do it

日本語で読む

 

I was delving through the archives of a fellow translator’s blog when I came across this piece of “Japanese translation”:

名称未設定

You may not be able to appreciate how bad this is if you don’t read Japanese, but I can assure you it’s absolutely dreadful — to the extent it’s utterly incomprehensible. Don’t ask me what this text is about because I haven’t a clue, apart from the fact that it’s clearly a piece of (really bad) machine translation.

So what? You may ask. We all know the internet is littered with gibberish churned out by Google Translate and other free MT services of that ilk — hardly anything new to shout about, is it?

Right.

Except, this particular one belongs to this page:

名称未設定 2

It’s no ordinary machine-translated gibberish; it’s a piece of machine-translated gibberish taken from a translation company’s blog:
http://www.gts-translation.com/gtsblog/language/ja/2012/10/31/showcasing-mt-technology-day-two-of-amta2012/

If you click the above link, what you get will probably look quite different from my screen capture. The blog obviously detects the system language setting and loads its content in the corresponding language, through an automatic machine translation engine if a language other than English is required. Clever.

Or maybe not so clever.

The home page of the website boasts that this company “is a language translation company that has been providing high quality professional translation services for over 10 years to some of the largest international companies in the world”.

GTS translation

Even though I wasn’t familiar with their name and have never worked with them, I have no reason to doubt their words. Still, you can’t help but wonder what possessed this provider of high quality professional translation services to allow this machine-mangled page to show up on their website. A quick browse through the site gives a clue:

MT tool

Serving the largest international companies in the world isn’t the only thing this company does; it also caters to the masses who can’t afford high quality professional translation services, who are welcome to use their free machine translation tool instead. You can even download their free WordPress plugin, which is “guaranteed to increase your traffic by at least 30% after 2 months”.

So my guess is that their own blog also uses their own proprietary machine translation system — perhaps to demonstrate what you too could achieve with their impressive technology?

The free online translation tool comes with a caveat that “machine translation is not 100% accurate and should not be used for mission-critical tasks like legal translation or medical translation”. Which is absolutely right. GTS is a translation company after all — they know the limitation of the technology. Using machine translation for mission-critical tasks is a bad idea indeed.

And of course, translating the website of a translation company that markets itself as a provider of high quality professional translation services is hardly a mission-critical task, is it?

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