Ever since the advent of machine translation, naysayers have been predicting the extinction of the human translator. In their opinion, it’s only a matter of time before this new technology renders professional translators completely obsolete. However, it’s not as easy to replace a human translator as some would have you think.
Trained professional translators possess a vast range of knowledge of at least two different languages and cultures. In addition, they have expertise in specialized topics including, but not limited to, the law, science, medicine and business. Language service professionals have exceptional writing abilities in their native languages, and they must be able to adapt their writing style to the tone of the original text, whether it be formal, humorous, etc. They also possess knowledge of various dialects and an understanding of the cultures and customs in the places where their working languages are spoken. As a cultural and linguistic bridge—a language ambassador of sorts— translators are, in large part, responsible for effective communication with the world outside their countries’ borders.
Just like other professionals, translators must continually engage in training and professional development to keep abreast of important issues in the field of translation. Many translations are of a highly sensitive nature, and errors or shoddy work are simply unacceptable. Professional translators maintain high ethical and quality standards, standards which non-professionals are not bound to uphold.
Sadly, the prestige associated with the profession of translator seems to have waned in recent times. In many cases, the skilled translator is no longer viewed as a valuable professional, but one that can be easily replaced by a machine or an individual who is merely capable of communication in two languages. As an example, a new translation outfit known as Duolingo will soon be offering companies translations performed by language students. The students supposedly gain experience and knowledge while working for free, and companies get low-cost “translations” performed by individuals who are clearly lacking the requisite skills to produce quality work. The fact that a market exists for translations from a source like Duolingo speaks to the public’s low opinion of translation and all that it entails.
It’s important for language professionals to continue to educate the public about the role of translators and the true nature of their work. When the public understands the value of professional translation services, both clients and translators stand to benefit.