The Future Needs Translation

The Future Needs Translation

April 1st, 2014 | Posted in Art & Society, Science & Tech

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In order to reach 98% of the world’s online users, businesses today must translate their content into 48 different languages. Supplying content in English limits them to about a third of the world’s consumer base, cutting them off from a $50 trillion market located mostly outside the United States.

The resulting, ever increasing demand for translation is driving a variety of changes in the translation market. Machine translation technology has reached the point where it is widely usable by the average user, but the difference between it and a professional translation is still acutely visible. Where will translation go in the next few years? Will machines take over? Here are a few predictions.

1. Machine translation will grow, but it will not supplant human translators

Machine translation is not capable of reaching the same accuracy or fluency as a human. Every person who speaks a language can add new words to the vocabulary, give new meaning to existing words, change the grammar, or tweak the spelling. One need only look at online chat, Twitter, political revolutions, or popular songs for example.

Computers will never be able to keep up with all these evolving changes. However, improvements in machine translation have already brought it to the point where forgiving users find it convenient and often a necessity. The approximately 250,000 translators worldwide simply cannot keep up with the ever-growing demand for translations between the world’s 6,000+ languages.

Therefore, improved machine translation engines will combine with increased demand — and increased tolerance for mediocre but instantaneous translations — to cement machine translation output in modern society.

2. Human translation will become increasingly valuable

The imperfection of everyday machine translation will increase recognition of the benefits that quality human translation offers. More people will recognize that text can be translated in multiple ways, and translation buyers will start understanding the importance of high-quality human translation in order to effectively sell their products or appeal to specific foreign buyers.

3. Translation will become increasingly integrated into a company’s workflow 

Each additional language which a company offers multiplies the amount of content in their workflow. Companies will be all but forced to integrate translation into the process of producing content for their business, so that they are able to translate, edit, review, and synchronize all localized versions of their content in an efficient manner.

This may take the form of expanded feature sets in content management systems (CMS) or additional specialized packages, but it will be increasingly apparent that treating translation and localization as an afterthought is impractical.

4. Human translators will take on broader roles

Already, translators who choose to use computer-aided techniques in their work are personalizing machine translation engines to their specific specialties and developing custom translation memory tools to suit their needs.

With the increasing demand for machine translation — particularly in situations where human translation is not practical or necessary — translators will find themselves working to improve different machine translation engines to specific tasks.

In the situations where machines cannot do the job, translators may drift away from the original concept of simply translating text and become localizers or ‘trans-creators’, in charge of translating the more abstract concepts behind a brand into a local market and creating content to suit. Similarly, translators are already doing business-critical work like checking product names to ensure they have the correct meaning across many cultures, and ensure there are no language traps which will appear on launch.


Online translation has already come very far since its inception. As well as the ubiquitous machine translation services, businesses can now obtain quality human translations on a near-automatic basis. Translation services with APIs allow the translation process to be integrated into existing software packages for efficient localization, and that is simply a start. Translation is becoming an ever more important aspect of business online for all kinds of businesses, and the industry is adapting quickly to this new role.

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