Human vs. Machine – Translation Excellence?
You’ve just finished writing a comprehensive IVR script for your organization’s phone system. But before submitting it to Holdcom, you remember you were tasked with having the script recorded not only in English but also Spanish, French, and Mandarin, since a significant portion of your client base communicates with your organization in those languages. Like any professional working within a budget, your first instinct is to research the most cost-effective options possible to have your English script translated into the other languages.
Perhaps you’ve seen ads online for websites promising no-cost, on-the-spot translation solutions. Or maybe you remember there’s a built-in translation app on your mobile phone that you’ve always wanted to try out. Or perhaps you simply decide to type the words “free translation” into your web browser, and up pops Google Translate as the first search result.
Whichever of these methods you choose, you’re amazed not only at the ease-of-use the automated tool offers but also the immediacy that it renders a seemingly thorough translation. All you had to do was simply copy-and-paste your English script into the “Enter Text” box, select the desired language for translation, and INSTANTLY a fully formed translated document appeared. And you didn’t need to pay a single cent! Nothing short of victory, right?
But before you email that translated script over to Holdcom to be recorded, remember the age-old saying – If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
While no-cost translation sites/apps can be a great resource for quickly translating stand-alone words, short phrases, or even full paragraphs to obtain the gist of information presented to you in a language you don’t understand, these same sites/apps can yield varying degrees of inaccurate translations, depending on the context of the verbiage you’re translating and the languages involved.
So while a free automated translation site might be an adequate solution when it comes to personal use (such as helping you understand an email or text from your new social media friend in France, who’s writing to you in his native language), that same site’s lack of 100% accuracy renders it an ineffectual tool for professional applications, especially long-form applications such as Message-On-Hold and IVR scripting. In other words, the longer your script, the greater the likelihood the automated tool will produce errors in the translation.
Of course this begs the question – WHY do these automated translation tools produce such errors?
Think about it. In English, a word can have various meanings, and those meanings can be very different from each other. If someone were to say any of these common homonyms to you –
fan, park, play, right – as purely stand-alone terms and expect you to know the exact meaning they’re implying, you could certainly take a guess. But you would really need to know the surrounding context associated with those words to understand the precise meaning that person was intending. Such is true for homonyms in other languages. And therein lies one of the reasons an automated translation site/app can easily take a wrong turn.
Depending on which type of auto-translation tool you use and the languages you’re pairing, the software may rely on direct (or, “literal”) translation methods, meaning it translates each word of your text separately, without considering how those words are used collectively in the full context. This can result in not only grammatically incorrect – but oftentimes, nonsensical – translations.
To give you an example, I remember receiving a client’s Spanish translation years ago and immediately realized they had used an automated translation tool. I’m not fluent in Spanish by any means, but when I referenced the client’s English version of their Spanish translation, I noticed the word “Queens” throughout. And based on the context of the English script, I could see the client was referring to the New York City borough of Queens. However, the word “Queens” appeared nowhere in the Spanish translation, which was a red flag. I could see that instead of leaving the proper name of “Queens” intact in the Spanish translation, the automated tool mistakenly translated it literally as “Reinas” – the plural version of “a female sovereign or monarch” – which was obviously not the word/meaning the client intended.
So what will happen if you unknowingly submit a faulty translation to Holdcom to be recorded? In general, it will cause confusion and ultimately delay the production of your final product, which is never ideal – especially if your leadership has given you a hard deadline to have the recordings implemented on your phone system. So as our voice talent sits down to record your translation, s/he will inevitably spot grammar and word choice errors that will likely render the script unreadable. In these situations, I often receive feedback from voice talents as such: “Unfortunately it appears this script was translated using Google Translate or a similar site. If I were to record this as is, I’d basically be reading gibberish in some sections. I think I know what the client is trying to say, but I honestly can’t be sure and I certainly don’t want to guess. So please circle back with the client for clarification.”
Although the accuracy of certain automated translation tools has improved over the years, don’t assume the site/app you’re using is necessarily selecting the word/meaning it thinks best based on the specific nuances of your content. Such automated tools are more likely relying on a language pattern-matching algorithm, so there’s no guarantee it will select the word/meaning you intended. To compound the problem, there is no reliable way to confirm the auto-translator’s word choices are fully accurate without an actual human being, fluent in both the original language and translated language, to verify those word choices. A machine using an algorithm simply can’t understand the contextual subtleties to the same degree a trained human can.
And that is why, when translating a document that will be used for a professional application, it’s crucial to steer clear of these “machine translators” in favor of skilled human professionals. Experienced professional translators will take the necessary time and effort to avoid the pitfalls of literal translation methods. They’ll factor in the all-important rules of grammar as well as any cultural references and nuanced language contained in your script. They may utilize not only their personal knowledge and expertise of the languages required for the translation but also well-established multilingual dictionaries/glossaries, “back translation” methods, and proofreading/review techniques, which automated translation tools do not employ.
If you don’t already have a reliable human translation source (such as a fluent bilingual staff member with a proven track record of providing error-free translations), then Holdcom, at an affordable rate, can provide you with professional translation services, performed by certified, highly experienced multilingual translators. And since word choice can be subjective even when skilled human translators are involved, you will be given the opportunity to review and approve all translated documents before we record them. This way, if our Spanish translator translates the phrase “To repeat these options, press 9” as “Para repetir estas opciones, oprima 9” – but you prefer the word choice of “Para repetir estas opciones, presione 9” – we can certainly adjust that to your liking before the script is recorded and implemented on your phone system.