Update: I believe this post was misunderstood by some as a pamphlet against MT and post-editing altogether. Here, I am only referring to projects meant for publication (=commercial purpose) and for which customers ask a discount for simply using MT. I have no issue with post-editing machine translation for training purposes, and I believe MT is a useful technology for individuals and translators alike. For more details, you may want to check my follow-up post here.
The increasing number of Machine Translation Post-Editing (MTPE) jobs posted online seems to be one of the big trends of the translation industry. These jobs essentially consist in fixing translation provided by an automated tool (Google Translate, Bing Translator, etc.) for a lower price than ordinary, 100% human translation.
The idea sounds good on paper, but faces a major issue:
MTPE takes more time and energy than human translation for poorer results
A translator will typically read the source text, think about the translation and write it out. MTPE adds a step before that: comparing the source to the MT output. It is tempting to think that because MT engines output a draft, translators save time when typing the translation. The truth is that, often rather than not, the output will require so much rework that it would be faster to type the translation out from the start. On occasions, the MT result will need only minor rework, but the time saved here is taken away by the comparison bit I mentioned earlier.
Even if the best of the cases, MT doesn’t save you time. And most of the time, it will require more efforts than a human translation.
On the top of that, the final quality also suffers, and that for two reasons:
– With MTPE, editors fix a text to make it “acceptable”, readable. Human translators try to produce texts that are fluent, natural in their native language. Something “good” rather than merely “comprehensible”.
– Because of the way MT engines work, the output can occasionally contain very serious mistranslations. Google Translate will very often omit words, especially negations, because it looks for similar sentence patterns in its translation memory rather than translating from scratch. Of course, the job of a MT post-editor includes spotting these mistakes, but it’s easy to let one slip away when you are correcting hundreds of them for hours.
MTPE doesn’t make sense for end clients either
– For a high quality translation, asking a professional translator is the best way. Turning MT output into a good text will end up costing more than what a good translator will charge
– If you need a text translated for information purposes only, MT does that very well already. Of course, there will be grammar mistakes and even occasional mistranslations, but in most cases you will be able to understand the general idea behind the document.
MTPE is a hybrid approach that mixes the disadvantages of both MT and human translation: you will end up paying a price very close to that of human translation, for a result barely better than what Google and Bing give you for free. Half-baked concepts rarely produce good results, and MTPE is no different. I never accept post-editing projects because they don’t benefit anybody down the process, from the translator to the end customer.