English to Japanese Machine Translation?

Subject: English to Japanese Machine Translation?
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 01 Aug 2005 08:41:29 -0400

Nina Panzica wondered: <<Has anybody used these programs much and is there one you'd recommend over others? Need to try to find something better than or that complements SYSTRAN. It will be used by a non-Japanese speaker to make automatic translations of technical documents.>>

No offence, but think how you would respond if I asked you the following question: "I don't know how to write, and thus, Word will not meet my needs. Would FrameMaker do the writing automatically for me?" I'm not saying that to insult you, but rather to illustrate (with slight exaggeration) the kind of question you're asking.

Current automatic translation technology works very poorly unless it's used by (a) someone familiar with the potential and limitations of the technology and (b) someone who knows a bit about both languages and (c) someone who has experience as a translator. For someone who meets these criteria, the technology a godsend and an enormous productivity booster, but for someone who doesn't meet any of these criteria, it's potentially an expensive time waster and a danger to the reader.

There is a large exception to this negative view: If you have already developed a translation memory database that holds proven translations of a large set of standard phrases (the majority of what you'll be translating), and the original-language authors have used these phrases with near-perfect consistency and have had their writing carefully edited for clarity and simplicity, then it's possible for someone who does not meet one or more of these criteria to produce a credible first draft that a skilled (preferably bilingual) editor can turn into something useful.

But the bottom line really is the following: If you want to do translation, hire a translator. This is not work that "anyone" can do, and it takes both training and experience to do it well enough that your company won't be embarassed by the results. If you're in a business where poor translations can cost lives or dollars, sparing the expense of a professional is a false economy, and possibly unethical too. At best, you're asking for people to post mocking quotations of your translations for all to admire.

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Geoff Hart ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca
(try geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com if you don't get a reply)
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English to Japanese Machine Translation: From: Nina L. Panzica

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