Translation-friendly authoring ,
section Why automatic translation is realistic

What could automatic translation be good for

Even a coarse and erroneous translation can give an idea of what the text is about. This is crucial on the Web where one can easily access a huge number of documents in various languages and needs to sort out what's relevant. If one finds a document in a strange language, automatic translation helps in deciding whether it is worth a closer look. If it looks really interesting, one could perhaps afford a translation made by a human translator.

A relatively good automatic translation could serve as the basis for human translator. Admittedly, there is a risk that the human translator produces unnecessarily low-quality translation that way, since automatic translation tends to reflect the structure of the source language too much. In any case, automatic translation is currently used that way, and it can save a lot of time e.g. by saving the human translator from the boring work of translating simple sentences, doing dictionary lookup, etc.

Automatic translation can be useful alongside with the original when the reader knows the source language to some extent but not fluently. Depending on how well he knows it, he could use either the original or the translation as the primary text, consulting the other one when problems are encountered.

An author who speaks several languages could use automatic translation of his documents as a extra check for clarity and grammatic correctness. For example, having written a document in English I could request an automatic translation into German, then read through the translation. Translation errors may well indicate problems in the original text, such as typographic errors not detected by spelling checkers - such as an error which happens to produce another word of the language - or too complicated or ambiguos grammatical structures. If a translation program cannot correctly handle a piece of text, this might result from features which also prevent a human reader from understanding it or make him understand it incorrectly, especially if the language used is not his native language.

The question remains whether "standalone" automatic translation can be feasible. That is, could one use a fully automatically produced translation as the only form in which a document is accessed? The answer is that it depends on the nature of the text and on the translation program. Currently Babelfish is already used to some extent that way in Usenet discussions, using grammatically simple language.

As the translation programs improve, it can be used for more complicated texts. Naturally, the question remains whether one can rely on an automatically generated translation. One might answer with another question: Don't humans err? In fact, in many details automatic translation can be more reliable, since computer programs do boring work more conscientiously than people do.

If documents are translated by human translators, each translation needs to be updated whenever the original is changed. This means a lot of boring work - some of which might be automated with suitable tools - especially for documents which are updated very frequently. And to a large number of Web pages is generated dynamically, on the basis of a user request and e.g. search from a database. A simply query report might contain very simple language grammatically and be easily translatable by computer.

For the majority of all uses of all documents on the Web, automatic translation is the only feasible way of access to anyone who does not know well the language in which the document was written. If a document exists in Portuguese only and you don't know Portuguese, you either utilize automatic translation or you can't read the document at all, except in rare cases where you can afford to order a man-made translation or find someone who does the job for you for free.