A few weeks ago, someone from a publishing company sent me an email. She said that a book she was working on included one sentence in Swedish and she wondered if I could edit that sentence (for free, natch).
So, though I had a lot of (paying) work and was out of the country, I looked at the original English and compared it to the Swedish. It was bizarrely bad. It was one of those sentences that includes words that can have multiple (non-related) translations and it was as though someone had just picked the first possible word from the dictionary rather than paying attention to the context and to parts of speech (for example, in the sentence I just wrote, I used the word "can" as a verb. "Can" can also be a noun, as in "a can of beans". And then there's the "can-can", but that's a different story.). There was no way that the sentence she sent me could have been translated by a professional translator.
I asked the editor who had done the translation and I also mentioned how terrible it was. She responded that it was, of course, from the internet. She didn't seem at all aware that machine translations might not be reliable. And she told me, rather shortly, I felt, to just fix it up right away.
Now, I am someone who believes in always responding to emails I receive and I am also someone who believes strongly in educating customers and consumers whenever possible. But in this case, I was so annoyed by her attitude (just assuming I was going to do work for her for free, especially given that I was out of the country and away from my desk, which she knew from the fact that I had an away message on) and by her somewhat snobby ignorance that I just couldn't bring myself to reply to her. I should have turned it into a lesson for her, but I had so much else going on and was so offended by her messages that I let it go. I regret that now.
But my regret is not really the point here. The point is -- how can we wean people off machine translations? How can we teach them what translation really is and what it involves? And how can we get people to understand that our time and expertise don't come free?
Just think about this -- everyone reading this will know what I meant by those questions. But if you run them through a machine translator, you'll probably get some nonsense about tin cans instead. That's simply not good enough.
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