Should Monolinguals Use MT?
Thread poster: Nicholas Magnolia

Nicholas Magnolia
United States
Spanish to English
+ ...
Jun 28

I work as a translator for a school district whose population consists of 80% Spanish speakers and due to the vast amount of communications that need to be translated, much of the day-to-day communications (messages to families, letters, notices, newsletters, progress reports, homework logs etc.) are being left to Google Translate and bilingual staff who already have multiple roles to play and so many times can't make translation a priority.

Since it's unlikely that the district will find the funds to place a linguist in each school, is it linguistically and culturally appropriate/ethical for monolingual speakers (who either have some or no knowledge of the target language) to use MT like DeepL as a substitute for human translation?

Thank you.


Daniel Frisano
Local time: 15:29
Member (2008)
English to Italian
+ ...
Pro bono? Jul 1

Looks like a good opportunity for voluntary work. Have you tried posting an invitation to volunteer as a ProZ job posting? (Provided that it is allowed by the rules, and that it doesn't draw the ire of anybody)

I'd happily take a few hundred words daily myself, but I am not sure that my rusty non-native European Spanish would be appropriate - or better than MT, for that matter.

Perhaps you can also devise some system of non-monetary reward.

TOMBE Franklin

TOMBE Franklin
Local time: 14:29
German to French
+ ...
Good for students in the field Jul 1

To be efficient, you can contact some students working with the languages you need, then give them the materials to translate. It is a good job for who is looking for experience and professionalism in a specific domain. I would have loved to help, but don't utter a single word in spanish.

MT might solve a problem but when it comes to betray you, the consequences are high. And never forget that, you are working in an administration. Hope it helps!

you will get students online and offline, willing to help. In return you will just have to give them recommendations and comment on their various online profiles.

Nicholas Magnolia

English to Russian
+ ...
CAT + MTPE? Jul 1

The school papers, procedures, and affairs are quite routine and repetitive, which is good for a free* CAT. It would take just a little time and efforts to build up/align a relevant TM/glossary and get accustomed to use and share it. (and backup!)

No-context machine translation (MT) is mostly for prompting and saving typing, so a decent speech recognition should speed up the process, though it's may not fit for a bear-garden like schools) Anyway, a native review and a concordance search still come handy into play.

Why, it may be graded too, not restricted as a single-handed mission.


Hans Lenting  Identity Verified
Member (2006)
German to Dutch
Beware of DeepL Jul 1

Nicholas Magnolia wrote:

is it linguistically and culturally appropriate/ethical for monolingual speakers (who either have some or no knowledge of the target language) to use MT like DeepL as a substitute for human translation?

Although I have written quite some enthusiastic postings about how useful DeepL can be as an advanced terminological search tool (engine, machine) and (time saving) typing aid. I'd be extremely careful to have DeepL translate texts that are important to pupils and their family.

Please be aware that DeepL often misses small words (or translates them wrong), which very likely will result in meanings that are contrary to what is intended. Imagine the harm that this can to to the (feelings of) pupils and families.

On the other hand, I imagine that some (much?) of the communication will have a repetitive part. So I'd investigate the possibility to use templates – that are carefully annotated for those who do not speak the target language.

Only in the hands of an experienced translator, DeepL can be used safely.

[Edited at 2018-07-01 11:08 GMT]

Nicholas Magnolia

Lincoln Hui  Identity Verified
Hong Kong
Local time: 21:29
Chinese to English
+ ...
The golden rule of MT Jul 1

Linguists are cheaper than lawsuits.

Michele Fauble
Robin Levey
Phil Hand
José Henrique Lamensdorf
Nicholas Magnolia

Phil Hand  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:29
Chinese to English
It's not so much "should they..." Jul 2

That boat has sailed. Your colleagues and school students and parents are definitely already using GT and other tools. The question is how you manage it.

I feel like the best thing might be to acknowledge MT and explain its potential dangers. Develop a bilingual warning to put at the top of every school missive: "We try our hardest to make our communications easy to understand. If you use GT or other machine translation, be aware they can make silly errors sometimes."

You can also develop standardized bilingual templates for as much communication as you can. Obviously its not ideal to ask teachers to write reports on their students using "drag and drop" preformed sentences... but it might be the best solution available given your constraints.

Also I recommend this book: The Global English Style Guide by John Kohl. It addresses the problems of making English (1) easily understandable for non-native speakers and (2) easily processable by machine translation systems.

Also, I agree 1000% with Lincoln's statement.

Meta Arkadia

jyuan_us  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 09:29
Member (2005)
English to Chinese
+ ...
The OP is not the administrator of the school district Jul 2

The ideas given here are all great but I wonder if he could implement any of them as a translator.


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