Posted by: patenttranslator | June 17, 2011

Post-Editors of Machine Translations Needed

The following announcement was posted two days ago on the GoTranslators website in the New Job Posting Section.

Source language: Japanese

Target language: English

General subject area: Law

Number of words: 530

 Due date: 2011-07-15

Format: file.doc

Comments [Customer language]:

Post-editors of MT needed into English. Linguistic Systems Inc. plans to start a major program for editing high quality machine translation from Japanese into English. A 4 or 5-year university degree is necessary to qualify. If you are a translator with native or near-native English languages skill and are interested in participating in this long-term program, please e-mail your resume. Please only apply if your language capability is close to that of a native English speaker because you will be editing for correct English.

 VIEW JOB OFFERS   (on top of the page)

I am registered for free membership with a number of “portals” for jobs for translators, such as GoTranslators and Proz. I never respond to job offers that are e-mailed to me in one of my language combinations because the rates are so obscenely low, but I think it is a good idea to be registered.

I see that the subject of post-editing of machine translations is often discussed on translators’ blogs and on websites for translators. Some translators think that this is the future of translation industry. As the MT product is being constantly improved, the job of many if not most translators will be processing of the MT product. That is what many people think.

Some translators, including this one, are repulsed by this idea. For one thing, I do not think that MT is being constantly improved, at least I have seen no evidence of that and I use MT quite frequently. I use both the MT function on the website of the Japan Patent Office and the free translation tool that is available as of this year on the websites of the European Patent Office and of the World Intellectual Property Office. I use these functions because they are very useful: I can estimate the word count in English based on a machine translation of a Japanese or German patent application into English. I also print out the MT product and use it when I translate. At first I am looking at the MT product constantly when I am still familiarizing myself with the technical terms. Because I look at the same time also at the original German or Japanese document and translate them into English, I can’t really tell how much information can a monolingual reader obtain from the machine translation. Compared to the alternative of no translation at all, it would be a lot of information. But a lot of the information contained in the MT product is completely wrong. Although most of the technical terms may be correct, based on my experience, these words end up being put together the wrong way by software about 50% of the time. It does not really matter which MT software it is.

Theoretically, I could just edit the free MT product myself and sell it at my usual rates to my customers. And I would probably do it if it were an efficient way to translate. But it is not. It would take me much longer to “edit MT”, and the resulting quality would not be very good anyway if the translation is based on how a machine understands a certain sentence in German or Japanese because unlike humans, machines do not understand anything. I don’t think it is possible to produce a reasonably good translation by editing MT in a reasonable period of time, which would have to be no longer and preferably shorter than the time required to translate the text from scratch.

But it is possible for a human operator to “fix” the most obvious mistakes of MT if this human operator has a working knowledge of both languages, and this human operator does not really have to be a translator, at least not a very good one. And this is probably the kind of translator that the ad above is targeting.

Based on the wording of the job offer and the character of the job, I think that the translation agency is looking for somebody who is just starting out as a translator, or somebody who lives in a low-cost country such as India or China (native English ability is not necessarily required). If the MT editors (I cannot bring myself to call these people translators) live in a Western country, they will probably be paid a rate that will work out to around 30 dollars an hour and probably a half of that or less if they live in a low-cost country.

Is post-editing of the MT product a viable business strategy in the translation business?

I think so. There is no shortage of translators who may be just starting out and who may be willing to spend the rest of their lives, 8 or more hours a day, cleaning the stables of King Augeas, (although it was just a one time job for Hercules and I doubt that he would be willing to make a career out of it, human MT editors will presumably be doing this work permanently or until they drop dead of boredom and exhaustion, whichever comes first).

But as a frequent user of the MT product, I don’t think that it is possible to produce good translations in this manner. Post-edited MT will be better than the raw MT product, but when human intelligence and human creativity are by default limited in such a drastic manner, which is obviously what you are doing when you ask a “translator” to “edit MT”, you should not be expecting a real translation.

However, these kinds of translations can probably work for some purposes. They should be better than MT, although probably not that much better. And they will be quite a bit cheaper than translations of human translators who have the required skills in both the source and the target language, well rounded education and many years of experience.

But then again, there are already many agencies based in low-cost countries who have been aggressively competing on price rather than quality for quite a few years now.

So this new type of translation represented by post-editing of MT product is really not much more than just another wrinkle in the never ending saga of the battle between cost and quality which goes on daily in every business, not just the translation business.

Here’s another job announcement, this time from London via Proz:

Posted: May 27, 2011 16:25 GMT

Job type: Potential Job

 Service required: MT post-editing (other)

Languages: Bulgarian to English, Greek to English, Italian to English, Romanian to English, Turkish to English Job description:

MT Post Editors required for editing legal documents for ongoing projects. You must have 2 years legal, finance or corporate translation experience and be adaptable to training with this new method of working. Send your CV to [HIDDEN]

Company description: Protext Translations is a legal and financial specialist translation company based in the City of London serving top law firms and banks throughout the UK and Europe.

Poster country: United Kingdom
Service provider targeting (specified by job poster):

Additional requirements:
Able to demonstrate experience with legal and financial translations.

Does anybody know people who edit MT for a living? Where do these people live and how much can they make? And if they really are translators, why don’t they translate instead?


  1. Hello

    Just thought I’d give you my 2 cents re. MT improvability. I take it the systems you are talking about are not customized (or maybe not enough) for different clients or subject matters. The trend now is to build specific engines for each client, and improve them with error patterns found during post editing. I have had this kind of experience and you do see the improvements over time.

    To see the improvements, though, you need to have sth objective to record and look at. For instance, you can log time spent/word count and see if the ratio improves. Or you could also turn to Asia Online’s free Language Studio Lite to calculate edit distance (amount of changes to raw output as a percentage). I got the feeling (not saying it’s your case) that many translators rely on their guts to say if and how much MT increases their productivity.

    And finally, for translators doing MT PE, maybe it’d be a matter of doing the math: more work at a lower rate might mean bigger revenue at the end of the month. It might make sense from a business point of view (although everyone would prefer to work less for higher rates, that’s for sure).


  2. I am just talking about my personal impressions as a relatively frequent user of MT.

    I am assuming that the MT software that is used on the Japan Patent Office, European Patent Office, and World Intellectual Property Office is customized as it does seem to have updated technical terms.

    However, as I said in my post, as a patent translator I cannot use MT, edit it and then sell it to my clients because it is much faster if I translate it from scratch as about half of the sentences really make no sense without heavy-duty editing.

    That is why I think that editing of the MT product is not a viable business model if you are looking for a final product that looks and feels like a real translation that was done by an experienced and knowledgeable human translator who is really fluent in both languages. Also, can for example a patent lawyer use something like this to argue differences between patents or write new applications? I doubt it.

    But edited MT may make sense for low-grade translations that are clearly better than raw MT, but not as good as human translations. A new (third) tier of translations is created in this manner which may be useful for some purposes.

    As for the argument that more work at lower rates means higher revenue – after almost 25 years in business as an independent contractor, I happen to know that more work at lower rates means only more work at lower rates. The revenues are the same or lower, the main difference is that you have to work all the time.


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