Google Translate and technologies like it have forever changed our lives. With their help, we can instantly translate any text we want. We can snap a picture of a restaurant menu or sign in a foreign country and immediately find out what it says. It is, truly, a mind-blowing technology. And as more and more people use these types of translation tools in their daily lives, they start to wonder: do we even need professional translators anymore? Do professional translators use Google Translate to do their work?
The answers to those questions are “yes” and “no” — in that order. Yes, professional translators do still have an important role to fill. Automated translation can be helpful for when you need to quickly get a rough idea of what a document is about — or when you need to know if you’re ordering a chicken stir fry or a bowl of vegetable soup — but it isn’t very precise. When you need to make sure that your translation is accurate and clear, there’s no replacement for a human translator.
Translation software helps, but it doesn’t translate
And while you may have heard that translators work with software programs to help them do their jobs, these are not the same thing as Google Translate. The translation software that professional translators use is called a CAT tool, which stands for “computer-aided translation.” And while that might sound a lot like Google Translate at first glance, it isn’t. CAT software doesn’t do the translation for the translator any more than Microsoft Word does the writing for the writer. It’s just a tool that helps them to work more efficiently.
CAT tools (there are several different ones) give translators a working environment that helps them work more quickly and with better accuracy. For example, they can install electronic dictionaries so that they can easily find the best translation of certain words without opening an internet browser. There are features that allow them to quickly search all of their previous translations to see how they translated a certain word or phrase in the past. And they can even do things like creating custom dictionaries for certain clients.
How CAT tools help to create a better translation
These last two features help translators to create consistent translations across multiple documents, which is especially important when they have clients who send them frequent repeat work. For example, a translator who works on English-to-Ukrainian pharmaceutical translation might have specific wording requests and style guides for different customers. Remembering the different requirements without the help of a CAT tool would be very difficult, but with these tools, professional translators can create much more consistent and high-quality translations.
So while professional translators do use software tools to help them do their work, those tools are very different than Google Translate. Google Translate is still not a replacement for professional translators. Although it can be helpful to get an approximate idea of what a text is about, the subtlety and nuance of the original will almost certainly be lost. That is why, especially for important documents such as legal translations and pharmaceutical translations, or highly nuanced texts such as marketing translations, human intuition is still needed. And if wording needs to stay consistent across multiple documents, you’ll want to work with a skilled professional.
Prepared by Yuliya Kinash, certified German & English to Russian/Ukrainian translator