jzetzsche says in Tool Box Journal “Neural Machine Translation Is Not Translation”

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1. “Neural Machine Translation Is Not Translation”
Mikel L. Forcada, who teaches at the Universitat d’Alacant, co-founded and works for Prompsit, and has been the president of the European Association for Machine Translation for the last four years (and an all-around nice man), recently said this in a comment for a blog post:

“Neural machine translation is sometimes intelligible and fluent, but not really a translation of the source. Post-editing is simply editing the ‘machine translation’ of the source so that it is a ‘translation’ of the source. Therefore, post-editors have to be translators, not just ‘linguists.’ Intelligibility is just one ingredient in the mix.”

This is such an interesting statement from someone who is deeply involved in machine translation.

Let’s pick this apart a little bit. The one comment I differ with somewhat is calling the interaction of translators with MT “post-editing.” I still maintain that this is only one of the possibilities, and often not the most effective. But let’s not focus on that for now (especially because Mikel agrees). Let’s instead look at two other things that he is saying.

“Neural machine translation is sometimes intelligible and fluent, but not really a translation of the source.”

Coming from a translator this would not be worth much attention, but coming from one of the leading MT experts in Europe, this is really meaningful. Mind you, he is not making a judgment here about the quality of the output of neural machine translation per se. He is talking about the nature of the output and its generation. And the one thing it is not is translation. It can be similar or even identical to translation, but because of how it is generated and what might be missing, it’s not a translation.

The other statement that is just as important — maybe more so, in fact — is that translators are needed to fix the outcome. I used that quote for a presentation I gave in Forlì recently, and someone from the audience quoted me on Twitter, which in turn spawned some rather critical comments. The fact is that with statistical machine translation, many thought that translators were not needed for a first pass of post-editing. Massive errors were relatively easy to spot, and it was often thought to be cheaper to have those marked by an underpaid bi- or even monolingual reader and then sent off to a translator rather than have the translator do the whole text.

With neural machine translation, this is not the case. As Mikel correctly asserts, NMT tends to be fluent, no matter whether it’s correct or not. This makes it harder for a translator to spot errors, and virtually impossible for a non-translator (who can’t evaluate the source adequately). This in turn means that it’s (once again) us, and only us, who are needed, and who therefore can have a say about the way machine translation is being used.

And speaking of machine translation in Europe, the MT Summit in August in Dublin has a promising-looking translator track.

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HOW TO TELL IF YOU ARE AN INTERPRETER OR A TRANSLATOR

HOW TO TELL IF YOU ARE AN INTERPRETER OR A TRANSLATOR

You are an interpreter if…

You are a translator if.

You can rise at 6:30 a.m. many days in a row

You are miserable unless you can get up 11 a.m. and go to bed at 3:00 a.m.

Your working wardrobe consists of suits, which you keep wrapped in plastic to avoid wrinkles and expedite packing

Your working wardrobe consists of jeans (shorts) and sweatshirts (t shirts), which you store conveniently on the floor of your closet

You are prone to sore throats and foot problems

You are prone to carpal tunnel syndrome and backache

You talk all day; in your leisure time you frequently just want to be quiet

You are alone with a computer all day; when you are with other people you tend to jabber

Your bathrobe has been to hotels all over the globe and in half the cities in the U.S.

Your bathrobe is what you are apt to be wearing at 2 in the afternoon

You are sick of hotel and restaurant meals and are dying for home cooked food

You are sick of looking at four walls all day and are dying to go out to dinner

You know many words in your second language that you have never seen written down

You know many words in your second language that you do not know how to pronounce

You have met most of the professional colleagues you know on interpreting assignments (or at ATA conferences)

You have met most of the professional colleagues you know through e-mail or Internet chat rooms (or at ATA conferences)

You are always traveling and long to be at home more so you can spend quality time with your family

At home you are always working or thinking about work, so the best way to spend quality time with your family is to travel together.

You struggle not to gain weight from constant exposure to banquet and catered meals and your work leaves you little time for exercise

You struggle not to gain weight from spending all day sitting on your duff and the constant availability of your refrigerator and your work leaves you little time for exercise

You stay up half the night stewing about the way you interpreted a term

You stay up half the night stewing about how you’ll translate a term the next day

Your favourite dictionaries are battered from rough treatment by baggage handlers

Your favourite dictionaries are battered from the rough treatment they get on your desk when you are in a “term search frenzy”

It drives you nuts to have the work you do referred to as translation

It drives you nuts to be asked if you ever did “simultaneous translation” for a celebrity

You are chronically tired and short of money and you suspect that the world underrates how hard you work and how much you contribute

You are chronically tired and short of money, and you suspect that the world underrates how hard you work and how much you contribute

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bad translators all over the world

How’s your English?

Wonderful English from Around the World

In a Bangkok temple:
IT IS FORBIDDEN TO ENTER A WOMAN, EVEN A FOREIGNER, IF DRESSED AS A MAN.

Cocktail lounge, Norway:
LADIES ARE REQUESTED NOT TO HAVE CHILDREN IN THE BAR.

Doctors office, Rome:
SPECIALIST IN WOMEN AND OTHER DISEASES.

Dry cleaners, Bangkok:
DROP YOUR TROUSERS HERE FOR THE BEST RESULTS.

In a Nairobi restaurant:
CUSTOMERS WHO FIND OUR WAITRESSES RUDE OUGHT TO SEE THE MANAGER.

On the main road to Mombassa, leaving Nairobi:
TAKE NOTICE: WHEN THIS SIGN IS UNDER WATER, THIS ROAD IS IMPASSABLE.

On a poster at Kencom:
ARE YOU AN ADULT THAT CANNOT READ? IF SO WE CAN HELP.

In a City restaurant:
OPEN SEVEN DAYS A WEEK AND WEEKENDS.

In a cemetery:
PERSONS ARE PROHIBITED FROM PICKING FLOWERS FROM ANY BUT THEIR OWN GRAVES.

Tokyo hotel’s rules and regulations:
GUESTS ARE REQUESTED NOT TO SMOKE OR DO OTHER DISGUSTING BEHAVIOURS IN BED.

On the menu of a Swiss restaurant:
OUR WINES LEAVE YOU NOTHING TO HOPE FOR.

In a Tokyo bar:
SPECIAL COCKTAILS FOR THE LADIES WITH NUTS.

Hotel in Yugoslavia:
THE FLATTENING OF UNDERWEAR WITH PLEASURE IS THE JOB OF THE CHAMBERMAID.

Hotel in Japan:
YOU ARE INVITED TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE CHAMBERMAID.

In the lobby of a Moscow hotel across from a Russian Orthodox monastery:
YOU ARE WELCOME TO VISIT THE CEMETERY WHERE FAMOUS RUSSIAN AND SOVIET COMPOSERS, ARTISTS AND WRITERS ARE BURIED DAILY EXCEPT THURSDAY.

A sign posted in Germany’s Black Forest:
IT IS STRICTLY FORBIDDEN ON OUR BLACK FOREST CAMPING SITE THAT PEOPLE OF DIFFERENT SEX, FOR INSTANCE, MEN AND WOMEN, LIVE TOGETHER IN ONE TENT UNLESS THEY ARE MARRIED WITH EACH OTHER FOR THIS PURPOSE.

Hotel, Zurich:
BECAUSE OF THE IMPROPRIETY OF ENTERTAINING GUESTS OF THE OPPOSITE SEX IN THE BEDROOMS, IT IS SUGGESTED THAT THE LOBBY BE USED FOR THIS PURPOSE.

Advertisement for donkey rides, Thailand:
WOULD YOU LIKE TO RIDE ON YOUR OWN ASS?

Airline ticket office, Copenhagen:
WE TAKE YOUR BAGS AND SEND THEM IN ALL DIRECTIONS.

A laundry in Rome:
LADIES, LEAVE YOUR CLOTHES HERE AND SPEND THE AFTERNOON HAVING A GOOD TIME.

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