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Since the early 1950s, human beings have being trying to use machines to translate languages. While these efforts have advanced in recent years, they are no substitute for a human foreign language translator. One of the earliest attempts was a partnership between Georgetown University and IBM. The researchers tried to develop a language translation program with early generation computers. The system used basic algorithm to make decisions. It had 250 words and six grammar rules and attempted to translate Russian to English.
Despite the early success, computers did not solve many of the subtle problems with language translation. While programmers can easily install the rules of grammar and meaning of words into a computer, they have a hard teaching a computer to understand cultural contexts and idioms.
By 1966, computers, scientists and linguists had developed significant research about computer-aided translation, but a report was issued that questioned the validity of the project. The Automatic Language Processing Advisory Committee concluded that it was cheaper for the Department of Defense to fund human translators rather than to fund researchers to study computer-aided translation. The report effectively killed significant research money for computed-aided translation for 20 years. The report read: “There is no emergency in the field of translation. The problem is not to meet some nonexistent need through nonexistent machine translation. There are, however, several crucial problems of translation. These are quality, speed, and cost.”
In the 1980s, engineers started to play around with the idea of a statistical-based approach to foreign language translation. That method was developed in the 1990s, until Google fully developed the idea, as it has access to massive amounts of data. In 2003, engineers at Google decided to implement a computer-based translation program based on the company’s theories on statistical-based web searches. They used massive amounts of data from web pages and other documents and relied on that data to translate documents. They started with a couple languages, but can now translate 70 different languages relatively quickly.
There are also tools like translation memory that matches particular phrases from a database that have been used previously. These can be useful when huge amounts of the same information are being translated.
Although these programs are beneficial for ‘casual’ translations, there are limits to their use. The main issue is that although these programs are examples of good engineering, they can never properly translate a complex piece of information where cultural meaning is woven into the text. This is particularly true in the area of translating legal documents. Here it is highly recommended that a company or person hire a professional foreign language translation com[any when translating legal documents. As one expert said, “Even if a computer has translated a word, it does not know how to perform localization, which is another way to further express the meaning of the document in the vernacular of the people that will read it. Human translation may take longer, but it provides a level of accuracy that computers are not able to perform.”
The European Union has seen the limits of computer-aided translations. The European Patent Office introduced Google translate, and the tool helps translate documents from the office. However, the office is the first to admit that “the engine cannot provide legally binding translations.” Essentially, the technology is limited to making the search process for discovery documents quicker, but a professional legal translator must be used for an actual application.
Contact All Language Alliance, Inc. to obtain professional translation of sensitive documents in any language by professional human translators.
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