How Does Machine Translation Work?  

February 4, 2022

In the technology era, more and more businesses are prone to machine translation to complete their translation tasks. But how does machine translation work? What are their advantages and should we gamble all kinds of documents on it? Let’s discover the answers in this article.

What is machine translation?   

Machine translation (TM) is a form of translation when texts are translated automatically with computer programs. Thanks to TM, human translators do not directly and fully participate in the process. The two most popular automatic engines are Rule-Based and Statistical, which are different from each other in the way they process and analyze content.  

How does machine translation work?  

As we have two types of programs, here is how they produce the translation.  

Rule-based machine translation (RBMT)    

This engine applies linguistic rules and millions of bilingual dictionaries to analyze the content of each language pair. It comes up with a more predictable output for terminology and grammar, through the use of a tailored terminology list to facilitate the program and the ability to correct every error with a targeted rule. Basically, a dictionary for the source language is used to choose suitable words in the target language. Then, syntax, grammar rules of both the source and target languages are observed, and the terms taken from the dictionary are modified to well-suite the context in the output.  

Statistical machine translation  

Different from RBMT, Statistical machine translation does not rely on linguistic rules and words. Instead, it produces translations by learning and analyzing a large volume of existing human translations. The engine requires at least 2 million words for a specific domain and even more for general language.    

As each machine processes and generates output differently, the engine chosen for a project depends on the language pair, domain, and availability of reference materials for the input files.   

Applying machine translation can benefit your project  

Increase your productivity  

One of the key advantages of machine translation is speed. Basically, a computer program can translate a tremendous volume of around 8000 translated words per day. On the other hand, human linguists take much longer to complete the same amount of work as their average volume is 2500 translated words per day.   

Reduce cost  

The most appealing reason to choose machine translation would be the cost reduction. After all, not only is it faster, but machines do not ask for a minimum hourly wage in comparison to professional translators who are experts and deserve to be compensated for their expertise. In TM, the cost can be further attractive by leveraging off translation memories and only translating new segments. In the long run, all your upcoming projects from the same domain are beneficial from the previous data saving by using MT.     

Ensure the consistency  

Consistency is highly significant for large projects and machine translation is one of the fastest solutions for it. The computer program can be trained from the data to use the same phrases and terms for the same concept. This will keep your content stay uniform and achieve the same tone throughout the translation.   

What are the best uses for machine translation?  

MT is not a one-size-fits-all solution since it can make a quirky tone some kind of content. In the following, we will go through some scenarios where machine translation is a big help for your tasks.   

Internal email and other written communication  

Internal communication becomes a great challenge if your company is available in several countries. The language skills of employees can vary a lot even when English is the company’s official language. Since not everyone can fluently use it, many people feel more comfortable and confident to communicate in their native languages. This is when machine translation comes to eliminate the language barrier by automatically and quickly convert the core content of the messages. Even though MT solutions are developing all the time, you should bear in mind that this is not error-free. Especially with important content such as new policies, you might encounter the risk of misunderstanding.   

Text with a short life cycle  

Product reviews, product titles on online shopping platforms are great examples of text with a short life cycle. When an online brand is available in multiple countries, applying automatic translation will be a decent way to positively influence customers’ purchase decisions. It might not significantly affect if the MT engine occasionally makes some silly mistakes or generate feedback in a clumsy way, as long as the core message is not too ambiguous.   

With product information translation, it’s ideal to classify products into more and less important ones, so that human translators can be added to edit the essential and vital ones. For less important products, the quality of MT might well be sufficient.  

In the globalized world where we can easily connect with anyone across countries, machine translation makes it faster and more effective with just a click no matter where you come from. However, it’s not a solution for all kinds of translation needs, so it’s essential to have a comprehensive evaluation of your material before choosing between machine translation and human translation. 


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