The Development of Machine Translations and the Issues Faced by the Interpretation/Translation Industry

Development of Machine Translation Services and the Greater Importance of Human Translation and Interpretation

December 14, 2015

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Real-time translation, machine translation

At the end of May 2014, Microsoft released a test version of a translation software for Skype, a tool for translation of spoken words in voice calls into audio and text output. It helps us communicate more easily with people who speak different languages.

The technologies of language translation and voice recognition have remarkably improved, and there are many machine translation services nowadays. So, how would these technologies affect language translation and localization in business contexts?

Advent of Real-Time Translator for Skype and "Siri", iPhone's Voice Recognition Software

It is admirable that Skype offers this real-time translation feature along with its free voice call service. This is because combining these features contributed to solving two issues at once: overcoming language barriers and avoiding prohibitive international calling charges. The translation feature itself, however, has been studied over many years and is not particularly new.

Speaking of the voice recognition feature, you may think of "Siri", an artificial intelligence built into the iPhone. Siri is a software program that recognizes the speaker's voice and responds appropriately to the user's request. Siri supports multiple languages including Japanese, which indicates that speech recognition technology for Japanese has also advanced. As can be seen from the above, the quality of software to assist in communication has been significantly upgraded in recent years.

Current situation of machine translation

These technological innovations have led to greater accuracy in the translation of words and short sentences by competing machine translation services year by year. Thus, those services would translate simple sentences used in everyday conversation fairly accurately. Using more than one service and comparing the results among them, you will probably understand quite accurately what the original text says.

Similarly, applications integrated with voice recognition software are also practical enough to use for simple interpretation of daily conversation. For example, when you go abroad for sightseeing and even if you cannot speak the local language, you should be able to get by to a certain extent with machine translation applications. With these applications, it would also be possible to translate letters or e-mail messages to your friends abroad.

Impact on Business and Interpretation/Translation Industry

It is a great achievement that these machine translation services have been developed. Even the people who are not good at learning foreign languages will be able to understand overseas information without any cost. By using the translation feature on Skype, if you can also solve a language problem when speaking to a foreigner over the phone, it should satisfy almost all your desires to translate foreign languages in your daily life.

However, currently, machine translation services can only be used for simple daily conversations or short sentences and are still not mature enough for practical use in business contexts where words come with responsibility. If you are interested in the services, you should use them for limited purposes depending on the occasions and situations, and remember you must check whether the results are accurate.

There is concern that the development of machine translation may reduce the value of human interpretation and translation, but in fact, it would be the other way around. Replacing human translation with machine translation to get a professional translation is not likely to happen any time soon. Actually, it is considered that, by comparing the quality of human and machine translations, the value of professional interpretation and translation services in business contexts will further increase.


The overall level of machine translation technology, including the launch of the real-time translation feature on Skype, has improved, and thus it seems that machine translation can satisfy your desires to translate foreign languages in your daily life. However, in business contexts, machine translation cannot achieve the desired level yet to satisfy severe requirements proposed in real situations. The more people use machine translation in their daily lives, the higher the value of interpretation and translation by professional in business situations will become, and the difference in quality between machine and human translations will become more obvious than it is now.

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