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The intelligent translation era - The human and technology relationship

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/polkadot_photo)

Language is an extremely human trait. It not only enables us to communicate, it also separates us from any other species. Oscar Wilde famously quoted, “There is no mode of action, no form of emotion, that we do not share with the lower animals. It is only by language that we rise above them.” However, thanks to technology, something that was exclusive to humans is evolving faster than ever.

The language we use is constantly changing to reflect the environment around us. As technology brings people closer together, never has it been more important to communicate on a global scale. Businesses need to connect with their customers – regardless of where they are. And being able to communicate with audiences in their own language is key, but the translation landscape is changing.

In our desire to connect with customers in an always-on, always-translated digital experience, a machine-first human-optimised content supply is not just necessary, but imperative. The challenge for global organisations, who will have lots of content to be translated accurately for each market, is knowing what tools to select and prioritise.

The good news is companies can achieve it all by investing in the right machine translation tools. This does though beg the question: in a world where every word can be translated instantly, what is the role of humans? How must businesses adapt to an era of intelligent translation that relies more on automation than raw talent?

Technology versus human translation

Today, “going global” can be defined as generating revenue from another marketplace than or having them business physically located in another country. No matter the change in the definition, going global demands a lot of an organisation not only in terms of translation, but also in executing delivery, customer support, human resources, and financial management. All of these activities require content in some form or another along with translation investment.

For global businesses trying to reach an ever-growing audience, the merging of machine learning and human optimisation can help marketers tackle this huge responsibility.

Content drives the customer journey. Without translation in all customer languages results in a huge missed opportunity to connect with more people and generate more revenue. However, meeting the demand for translated content using only people-power is impossible.

Of course, machines won’t replace linguists. Rather than using people’s time and effort for the entire translation process, shifting to a machine-first human optimised model changes the value of what linguists actually produce. It’s not words that become the measure of output, but the creativity, expertise and impact that a linguist can impart.

When trying to reach a global audience, the words themselves are cheaper than the context. Linguists who can deliver on the creativity and context are the partners that make translation truly successful.

A new world of meaning

Technology has affected the very essence of certain words being used in our vocabulary. The University of Leeds conducted a study for the National Trust which found technology has eclipsed the meaning of ‘web’, ‘tweet’ and ‘cloud’ – once the preserve of the nature world.

Dr Robbie Love, a linguistics fellow at the University of Leeds, said of the findings, “Language represents what’s important to a culture or society.” This could not be more true of the technologically progressive world we’re in today and the ever expanding global spectrum businesses need to speak to. Taking this into account, it shows that the implications of translation can ultimately have an impact on the meaning. Blanket translation word for word will not work, the context has to be accurate as well.

The issue is that translation can be a bit of a “chicken and egg” scenario: does a company wait for sales to take off in a particular country or cultural niche before investing in contextual translations? Or invest in content translations first to build demand for sales? The amount of time it can take to make a decision gives local competitors an edge.

By leveraging the machine-first human-optimised model, companies can then prioritise investments in smaller markets and expand multi-channel translation in established markets. This is a more efficient way to be everywhere at once rather than localising top tier content only for established markets, as many global businesses do today.

What next for intelligent translation?

The intelligent translation era is closer than you think – how content can be created, translated and delivered changes the very definition of globalisation today.

The question is not, “How can we translate this large volume of content?” But rather, “What can we do now that language is no longer a barrier to reaching customers?”

Most industries have experienced disruption as a result of advances in technology. What transforms the translation industry more significantly is the impact it will have on global business and consumers as a whole. By freeing up time and resource within teams, technology as an enabler of scalability is how businesses can reach audiences on a global level.

Peggy Chen, CMO, SDL (opens in new tab)

After completing her Bachelors of Science and Masters of Engineering in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Chen went on to Oracle, where she started as a Group Product Manager for Mobile & RFID before progressing to Product Marketing Director of the WebCenter division. Fourteen years later, she joined SDL.