The Linguist

The Linguist 60,3 - June/July 2021

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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28 The Linguist Vol/60 No/3 2021 OPINION & COMMENT Is machine translation post-editing suitable for marketing texts and could a new approach be a game changer? Agencies and direct clients have eagerly jumped aboard the machine translation post-editing (MTPE) bandwagon in the hope of saving themselves time and money. But can the industry really deliver what it promises? Even for creative texts? The desire to produce PR and marketing translations faster and cheaper is understandable. But is it far-fetched to expect MTPE to be as good as human professionals? The short answer is 'yes'. At least with the current pricing models. Indeed, setting a word price for preparing a creative text using MTPE could be likened to commissioning custom furniture in fine oak from a low-cost chipboard producer. An MTPE text is a lot like a basic mass-produced table: if you add a few extra screws, sand the edges and add a lick of paint it'll do the job, but it won't impress your dinner guests. These days, agencies simply tend to inform their pool of freelancers of their switch to machine translation (MT). They rave about the 'improved efficiency' and 'time savings', and include details of the rates that freelancers can look forward to receiving. It is not unheard of for translators to be offered half the word price previously paid for translations to rework MT texts. As a result, translators increasingly find themselves under time pressure, compelled to turn around texts in half the time to avoid losing out financially. To make matters worse, instead of working with just the source and target texts, we must now juggle four different texts: the source text in the source language; the MT text in the target language; the perfect, print-ready version in the target language; and the compromise we create under (time and financial) pressure. The outcome? Frustration all round. Creative translators are frustrated because we are constantly short of time, can no longer engage in our professional passion of producing creative texts, and cannot afford to spend time tweaking a text to perfection. MT often slows our work down more than it speeds it up, as we can never get into the all-important translation flow. Project managers are frustrated because complaints from clients increase; the time and price pressure grows; and their role is reduced to shifting around data, rather than managing a sophisticated localisation process. The time allotted is often too short for a proper briefing or quality assurance round. Clients are frustrated because the final product fails to meet their expectations; they weren't warned that MTPE is unsuitable for PR and marketing translations charged by the word; and the target text does not read well or flow. They may lose customers or suffer damage to their reputation due to poor-quality content. The agencies that remain true to their codes of professional ethics and refuse to support the race to the bottom find it hard compete with low rates elsewhere. As reputable language service providers, agencies and project managers, we must draw clear boundaries. MT charged by the word must remain a no-no for texts where consumer welfare, corporate image or company turnover is at stake. We must communicate this to our clients clearly. After all, if we want our profession to be taken seriously we owe them this transparency. Calculating costs One solution is fair pricing based on the hours worked/processing time. Billing by the hour requires the client to trust the service provider. Should they desire greater control, another possibility would be billing based on (post-) editing distance. This method is used in IT and works in a similar way to the document comparison tool in MS Word: the more the final version diverges from the MT text, the greater the amount of work it involves. Flexible pricing models have several advantages and can help to solve the most pressing issues. Calculating the costs after a project is completed is the only sensible option if creative texts are to have the desired impact. Translators must regain control and responsibility for their work. If they are paid for the best possible result, they will do their best. Indeed, they will keep honing the text until they believe they have achieved the best outcome for all involved – and, above all, for the client. If an MT suggestion is unsuitable, the translator will discard it and craft a solution that conveys the source text. This is far more A machine model THORSTEN DISTLER

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