Research into Machine Translation
Thread poster: AndiamoLtd

AndiamoLtd
United Kingdom
Jun 13, 2012

Hello,

We are currently looking into offering Machine Translation to our clients as an alternative translation solution. We appreciate that MT has its doubters but know that some translators post-edit quality (ie. not Google Translate) MT on a regular basis and would like to hear from these translators and about their experience. For example, how much post-editing work are you offered? How many agencies offer you this type of work? How do you charge your client – per hour? Per word? How many words can you post-edit per day compared to ‘normal’ proof-reading? Finally, I think most of us have experimented with Google Translate but what are your opinions on post-editing translations which have been generated by a client-customised MT engine?

If you don’t want to reply to our queries on this forum, please send your response via a Proz message rather than emailing us.

Thanks in advance for your help and we look forward to hearing from you.


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BabelOn-line
United Kingdom
Local time: 18:30
English to French
+ ...
A classic "how long is a piece of string" question Aug 17, 2012

Hello there at Andiamo

Well, I see more and more requests for "post-editing" MT texts. Usually, they come paired with insultingly low rates.

I have discussed this issue with a few of my regular free-lancers (all of them are excellent, established linguists). I can safely report we all feel this is a tricky one.

Any translator knows that MT can produce hilarious howlers. Serious linguists also know that MT can turn around some subtle mistranslations that are way harder to detect.

As a result, if you add up the time it takes you to straighten up the MT's howlers, tweak the dodgy syntax and then mine-sweep every sentence for these more subtle errors, you are not very far from what it would have taken you to translate by hand.

And this is an horrible job.

So, I'd say you have two possible routes here:

1/ MT plus reviewing by a junior translator or some poor underpaid soul. Problem is, the underpaid linguist is not going to add much value to the MT and he will probably not have the time/ability to pick up the more subtle mistranslations provided by the MT. He will clean the text and polish it just enough to give the reader a false sense of security.

2/ MT plus reviewing by an experienced linguist. Problem is, you then don't save much money by using MT for starters and you have an increased risk of error.

In both cases, the usage/costs don't stack up.

As impractical as it is, i'd offer the client a choice between 1/ proper human translation done by a qualified linguist for important stuff 2/ straight MT with a warning on every page reading "not translated by a human" plus a direct line to a linguist – should the reader detect there is something wrong so he could ask for a clarification.

I am now working with a military equipment supplier. Potentially, volumes to translate are huge: I ended up being more a tech advisor for translation (what do we translate, is it worth the cost, who do we send the translations to, when do we use Google?) rather than a translator.

They got so much stick using Google that they are now well aware of the problem. The howlers are no problem (when "seal performance" gets translated into "sea lion circus performance" in French, everyone has a good laugh and asks someone who speaks English). But some harder to detect mistakes almost cost them a multi-million pounds tender.

IMHO, this is going to be the BIG question for our industry in years to come.

Machine translation "works". It is virtually free. So in most clients mind, translation costs baseline is nil. Anything you spend on top is more and more seen as a costly extra. And unless you spend a lot on this "extra", you don't get much bang for your buck. But then, for say, your average 4000 wds job, how do you explain the budget difference from £0 to £500 to the project manager?

Therefore, the market perception tends to split between "free or almost free and instantaneous" and "costly, long winded but superlative".

What you have in mind - it seems - it to achieve a happy medium. For all the above reasons, i cannot see how this can be done. In my view, you either end up with "cheaper but frankly half baked" or "almost the full whack ticket but not exactly the genuine article".

Sorry if this does not sound very positive.

Best!


[Edited at 2012-08-17 13:23 GMT]


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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 13:30
Russian to English
+ ...
I don't take any post-editing jobs Aug 17, 2012

whatsoever. Most MT post editing jobs require re-translation, from scratch. Even some short texts translated sometimes for pleasure, between languages I do not know, are very inaccurate -- most of the grammar is off, in the best scenario. All I like MT systems for are phrases -- some set, idiomatic phrases can easily be accessed through good MT.

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polyglot45
English to French
+ ...
Not dismissal but... Aug 17, 2012

MT may well have its place in the translation spectrum but we need to be perfectly clear what that place is.
The key lies in the phrase "fit for purpose".
What exactly do I mean by that? Let me explain. If I work in a company that receives documents in a variety of different languages and we don't have the staff necesssary to cater to all those languages, then I will need to have texts translated. But some of these texts may be irrelevant to the company's business in one way or another. In such cases, MT can be a way of saving money by producing a VERY rough draft, which may suffice to enable a decision to be made on whether or not the text in question needs to be "properly" translated.
Once a decision has been made to go ahead with translation, in all frankness the best approach will be to send the original to a bona fide translator with experience in the corresponding field and with the right language pairs and get him or her to do the job from scratch. Asking someone to make a silk purse out of sow's ear will not save you money but could cost you big time in the event of a major misunderstanding (re-read previous poster).
Not all that long ago I was sent a text to revise that the client (direct) claimed had been written by a non-native. In fact, rather than lose face by admitting to his inability to produce the goods in a foreign language, the author of the text had used MT. Being a direct client, I was able to work my way back up the line and obtain the author's pre-translated original version and I can assure you that a lot of the stuff produced by MT was at best a joke and at worse a public danger and should have come with a health warning. I tremble to think what catastrophes could have arisen had it not been possible to go back to basics.
At this moment in time and probably for a good while to come, using MT and expecting professional translators to sort out the mess may (just) cost you less in the short term but could well cost you heavily in negative fallout in the longer term.
Caveat emptor!


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Giovanni Guarnieri MITI, MIL  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 18:30
Member (2004)
English to Italian
just changed my mind... Aug 17, 2012

none of my business, really...

[Edited at 2012-08-18 11:52 GMT]


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Ana Myriam Garro  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:30
English to Spanish
+ ...
@ LilianBoland: I fully agree with you Aug 17, 2012

LilianBoland wrote:

whatsoever. Most MT post editing jobs require re-translation, from scratch. Even some short texts translated sometimes for pleasure, between languages I do not know, are very inaccurate -- most of the grammar is off, in the best scenario. All I like MT systems for are phrases -- some set, idiomatic phrases can easily be accessed through good MT.


Only once I accepted a post editing job and like you say I had to re-translate it from scratch, and it took me twice or three times more than it would have normally taken me to translate it, so I would not accept any other job of that kind, which by the way, was paid at a very low rate.


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BabelOn-line
United Kingdom
Local time: 18:30
English to French
+ ...
Trained linguists say "over my dead body"... Aug 17, 2012

Glad to read all these subsequent answers to the original post. We overwhelmingly seem to agree that MT is MT and there is no such a thing as a "quick human post-editing to make things look nice". This tallies with the opinion of 99% of linguists I know.

However, I feel there is a massive cloud looming.

Most companies have heard about Google Translate (unless their employees live and work in a cave somewhere).

Then, anyone who has tried MT (often via GT) knows how unreliable and funny the translations are.

But... Somehow, I fear that translation is increasingly seen as something a machine can do instantly for free. The baseline perception of our trade is "with MT, it's bad but it is free".


Proof is, one of my client almost lost a tender recently because of a MT translation: i told them i'd rather translate their 2 lines emails for free rather than them risk using MT, but they still somehow believe it is a viable alternative.

So there is clearly a risk that linguists are consider as people who can provide a better service, but that service is "normally" free. Whichever way you take it, it dangerously makes us look like a costly extra.

Problem also stems from the fact many buyers of linguistic services do not speak another language: they do not realize how silly MT can make you look.

Are we like call centres? Bound to be relocated to cheaper countries?


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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 14:30
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Additional situations Aug 17, 2012

BabelOn-line wrote:
So, I'd say you have two possible routes here:

1/ MT plus reviewing by a junior translator or some poor underpaid soul. Problem is, the underpaid linguist is not going to add much value to the MT and he will probably not have the time/ability to pick up the more subtle mistranslations provided by the MT. He will clean the text and polish it just enough to give the reader a false sense of security.

2/ MT plus reviewing by an experienced linguist. Problem is, you then don't save much money by using MT for starters and you have an increased risk of error.

In both cases, the usage/costs don't stack up.


BabelOn-line, you made an excellent appraisal of the situation. So good, that I'd like to add a couple other cases. Let's assume that the entire goal is cutting costs.

What did cost-crunching people did in those days when anything from MT was a joke?

In those days a professional translator charged, say 10¢/word to translate, 3¢/word to proofread. A hardcore amateur translator charged 3¢/word to translate, no point in asking them if they'd dare to proofread anything.

So the cost-crunchers gave a job to the cheap translator to do it for 3¢, and then, by keeping'em close to their chest, lured the pro into proofreading for another 3¢. If the pro was a real one and they played it right, they'd get a 10¢ job for only 6¢! Of course, they'd never be able to hire that same pro again.

That was before the current development stage of MT. What do cost-crunchers do now? I'm not sure, but I might have seen one example yesterday.

A prospect sent me an entire book (in PT) and its translation (into EN), asking for a proofreading estimate. I checked it, and it had the aura of machine translation. So I tested them with http://www.translatordetector.com , and got quite low correlations (4~18%, depending on the part of it I chose to check). A more careful inspection of the translation revealed:

  • many typos any spellchecker would have caught;
  • extremely unusual (wrong!) translations, of the kind someone not knowing the language would pick from a bilingual dictionary;
  • many repeated pronouns, as if someone selected a phrase to rewrite with the mouse, but missed the first word, having typed it again;
  • many unjustified standpoint changes - in PT, "sua" may be "his/her/its" as well as "your" (it may be "sweat" too, but let's leave this one out), so there were things like (invented here) "she felt the pain in your head"
  • etc.

I don't know who should be blamed, the prospect or their translator, however it seemed that a low-grade student of ESL had - with the aid of a dictionary - successfully worked on a machine translation to conceal the fact that it was a machine translation, and got something that was thoroughly useless.

So I gave them my price for a complete professional retranslation, from scratch. Last I heard from them was a question, if I would do it for 1/4 of my quoted price (actually 2/3 of my price for proofreading the same book, had it been properly translated).

Hence the new trend seems to be using machine translation, then a cheaper wannabe with a dictionary to 'doctor' it in a way that it can't be promptly identified as a machine translation, and finally hire a pro to "proofread" it. Watch out!


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