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The Future of Translation – Part 1

von | 27.04.2020

At this juncture we would like to thank our guest author Martin Dunne, healthcare professional and translator, member of the Anglo-German Medical Society and the ITI Medical and Pharmaceutical Network, for his valuable contribution on the future of translating. Enjoy the read.

A very sad fact: the better a translation, the less it is appreciated.

It is common knowledge that computer-assisted translation has become firmly established throughout the industry. This makes translation quicker, more consistent, and cheaper.

The old adage that translations can be good, quick, or cheap but never all three – and not necessarily in that order – has become obsolete.

With the advent of machine translating, a process founded on statistics or grammar, clients have never had it so good. They can have sheaves of paper translated in seconds for a few pennies a word. Droves of poorly paid and undertrained students then pore over the translation to check whether the translation is correct. In good houses they compare it with the source text, in others they merely check the fluency of the outcome. Nevertheless, machine translating is also here to stay. Pandora’s box is gaping open.

General opinion has it that mass translations as in the automotive industry will be served well by this process. There are millions if not billons of segments to call upon, and who reads the manual anyway? Never mind that IT help texts are anything but that. Cash is King. Remember those Chinese Instructions for Use with their cryptic, indeed inscrutable, details?

So where does that leave us? Well, there are niches in the system that will not readily succumb to mass production. Nooks and crannies that save lives, restore health, keep national and local economies running. Backwaters where human and individual rights are paramount. A slick advertising slogan in the US is incomprehensible to most Germans. Machine translating cannot yet cope with cultural nuances, the message between the lines in Annual Reports, or medical abbreviations.

So it is here, in these niches, that expertise, experience and excellence are required.

No machine, no matter how versed in medical terminology, can decide whether a patient has pulmonary embolism or pleural effusion (both abbreviated as PE). One is immanently fatal and requires urgent treatment, the other will pass with rest and by propping the end of the bed up. There was one unforgettable instance in which an English pathologist added a footnote to a translation suggesting that “if the patient’s blood calcium was really that high she must be a statue”. These are mistakes (and doctors DO make mistakes) that can genuinely cost lives.

It is clear that such specialist translations need nurturing. How can we achieve this? What answers do we have to this conundrum? To find out, simply read the second part of this blog that we’ll be publishing in mid-May – suitably embellished with further striking examples from the everyday world of translating.

End of Part 1.