Do we still need human translators?

2 april, 2016
Frank ter Reehorst

We hear the same question almost every day, from multinationals, legal firms, and manufacturing companies: "do we really need a professional translator?" A very good question, of course, especially if you are a company doing business in other countries. Many companies often start by handling their translations on an ad hoc basis, by delegating occasional translations to a bilingual member of staff, or simply using Google Translate. Of course every company needs to keep costs down, and it takes time and effort to find the right translator or the right translation agency. And with all the advances in computer technology, people often think that everything is translated by computers anyway.

So if you are new to international trade and commerce and localisation, then perhaps we can help you with a brief explanation of the basic principles. Obviously, the language and culture of any company will depend on the country where it is based. But with the increasing importance of globalisation, it doesn't take long before the critical role of localisation becomes clear. The bottom line: if you want to stay ahead of the competition, you have to make sure your translations are in tune with the local culture, customs, and latest trends.

Frank ter Reehorst, Director of Business Development at Translation Agency Scriptware, is all too familiar with the importance of localization when it comes to translations, both for the SME sector and multinational corporations. In Discover Benelux magazine, he recently explained the crucial role played by localization in the translation needs of international businesses:

“The translation of the message must communicate as well as the original. If you want to conquer foreign markets and want to be taken seriously, you have to make sure your translations are perfect. In marketing texts, metaphors or even colloquialisms are used to trigger the reader. A literal translation can cause very peculiar sentences; therefore the translator needs to understand the reader and the specific tone of voice.”

With localization, a strong linguistic equivalent can be created of the original text. This is more than just a literal translation. Words in one language simply don't have the same emotional effect in another language. When a word is used in both a literal and a metaphorical sense, it can be interpreted completely differently in another country or culture. But does a computer know that? And does a computer know that in some countries some jokes aren’t funny, especially if religious or political sensitivities are involved? That doesn't mean there aren't professional translation tools that can help translators with their translation. But basically, there are some things about human society that computers simply don't understand. So the answer to the question "do we still need human translators?" is a definite yes!

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