Should I Use Machine Translation for My Documents?
That depends upon the quality of translation required as well as the importance of the document that needs to be translated. Many people mistakenly think machine translation (MT) is a by-product of the computer age, which isn't true. The idea of building a machine to translate different tongues into a common symbolic language can be traced to a French philosopher, mathematician and scientist named René Descartes in the 17th century. Although his dream of universal MT was never recognized, traces of his applied uses of mathematics to explain humanly concepts still exist in the field of computational linguistics.
Machine Translation today basically relies on two entirely different approaches: rule-based or statistical. Rule-based MT focuses primarily on converting words from the source language to similar words in the target language with human input for exceptions like grammar and disambiguation. Statistical-based MT works by detecting patterns in millions of documents that have previously been translated by humans and then makes the most intelligent guess (i.e. Google Translate). Unfortunately, the automatic machine translations currently available are only able to reproduce perfect translations where the application has a very limited number of semantic substitutions between the source and target languages.
On the other hand, computer-assisted translation (CAT) is software used as an aid to support the human effort provided by a translator. It replaces the stack of multilingual books with electronic-based language dictionaries, grammar checkers, indexers and more complex tools. Translation memory software, language search-engine software, terminology software and alignment software are employed by translators to speed the translation of important documents for business, technical, legal and healthcare applications.
If you're trying to interpret the verbiage on a website or a generic document, machine translation can provide a decent interpretation as to the meaning of the content. However, if your document needs to be clearly understood with subtle nuances and cultural inflections, you need to employ the services of a reputable document translation company.