Shortage of translators? The attack of post-editing

What is post-editing?

Post-editing is an ever-growing practice in the translation field, especially in translation agencies and companies resistant to hiring translators. It consists of the correction of a text whose translation from the original language into the target language is previously generated by machine translation or computer-assisted translation.

It has been used as a resource for medical and technical texts for years with various degrees of success, depending on the level of specialization of the text, the machine translation used in the process and the post editing labor itself. Post-editing is most successful when the text is not highly technical and the computer-assisted tool has been used for other translations similar to the current text, and has within the program itself tools like editable translation memories, glossaries, alignment tools and suggestions. SDL Trados is widely known in the translation community, but it is a big investment.

CAT tools as a resource

There are programs which provide translators with a draft on which they can work. One example is Wordfast Anywhere, a free browser-based, computer-assisted tool, part of the Wordfast family. As it automatically generates a translation for the segments about to be translated, the translator already has the foundation.

Wordfast integrates IATE, the interinstitutional terminology database of the European Union, a project launched to facilitate  standardization throughout the EU institutions. It contains vocabulary related to specialized fields (such as chemistry, agriculture, economics), made to be useful for the wider audience as well. This database is what makes the tool useful: the translator only has to check the correct use of the terms, grammar, spelling and syntax, so that the text is coherent and semantically sound. It reduces the time of both translation and documentation.

Post-editing and quality of work

However, the incorrect use of CAT tools can result in bad translations: it is essential to proofread and revise machine translation. A translator has to ensure that the text is adequate, makes sense and is natural for the target audience. Only human translators can provide a natural-sounding text, and adapt it to fit into the culture it is going to be received in.

There is also the problem of deadlines tied to post-editing. Due to the advantage of this technique cutting down the time spent on research and translation, companies provide translators with machine translated texts for them to edit them in less time and for a lesser rate. This devalues the whole field, as translators are not hired to do good work, but to supply a larger quantity of work in order to earn the same amount of money. Translators do not have enough time to do as thorough of a job as they used to and end up being burnt out and decreasing the quality of their work. 

Disadvantages in audiovisual translation

As much as post-editing is helpful in technical texts, it is not as helpful for literary or audiovisual work, especially audiovisual translation. Subtitles and dubbing depend on more than the text itself: there are sounds and images that give context on the people talking, objects and other items that have to be referenced.

For example, if someone says “Do you want it?” in a film, CAT tools cannot know if the register is formal, what the “it” refers to, who the recipient is… In translations into Spanish, that sentence can be translated into “¿Lo quiere?”, “¿La quiere?”, “¿Lo quieres?” o “¿La quieres?” depending on the context, or the image in this case. Moreover, there are idiomatic expressions, comedy, lyrical content, etc., that machine fails to transfer between languages (you can read about Spanish sayings here).

The controversy with the Squid Game translation

All of the above culminates in the official translation for the Netflix show Squid Game into Spanish and its following controversy. The translation was made using post-edition as the main technique. Due to tight deadlines and the disadvantages mentioned before, the translation was poor quality and the public and translators started to debate the pros and cons of post-editing.

The media responded by declaring there is a shortage of translators. Bearing in mind that, in Spain, hundreds of translators graduate every year from university, translation professionals reacted by refuting the statement. Many translators have come forward reporting the bad conditions offered by VOD platforms: impossible deadlines, lack of information, instability and insignificant rates. The combination of factors results in poor translations made by desperate professionals who are under pressure. 

The discussion on post-editing continues to this day and has shed light on the environment of the field. We hope that it will lead to a better recognition of the translation field, as well as the improvement of our working conditions and, therefore, an increase in the quality of post-edited work. 

What do you think about post-edition? Let us know below.

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