I made an interesting discovery recently when I was translating a fairly long Japanese utility model into English. Usually, when I am translating the text of Japanese patent applications, I automatically download a version of the machine translation of the Japanese text either from the Japan Patent Office, or from the European Patent Office website to use as an expanded dictionary, although with many caveats, of course. Machine translations into many languages, including into English, are available for all relatively recent Japanese patent applications going back more than 20 years. But they are not available for older patents and utility models, which belong to a lower category, inventively speaking.
Even in a case like that, I can simply convert a PDF file to MS Word and create machine translation manually, for example with GoogleTranslate or with Microsoft Translator. If there are just a few very slight imperfections in the printed copy, the conversion to a digital file will result in a text that is often completely nonsensical. But even if I have a perfectly legible PDF copy, as was the case with this utility model, the conversion from PDF to a digital file creates too many obstacles for a machine translation program because the spacing between Japanese kanji, hiragana and katakana characters, even though they might have perfectly regular spacing, throws off the algorithms of the machine translation program because there are no spaces between Japanese words.
It is not even clear what a word is in Japanese, so the Japanese text may look like this: itisnotevenclearwhatawordisinJapanese, or like this: i t i s n o t e v e n c l e a r w h a t a w o r d i s i n J a p a n e s e. When the wrong characters are connected together, the result is obviously completely wrong. For some reason, machine translation programs can handle the first alternative for Japanese texts relatively well, but not the second alternative.
Here is an example of what happens when a perfectly legible PDF file in Japanese is converted to digital form and then put through GoogleTranslate:
“In Tsu by the and the child that same map di-work for the person E students that Ki out and this you promote the blood circulation of the head part. Placed by the comb-shaped heat scratch preventing portion to the peripheral edge evenly of the head portion, order to carry out the heat scratch prevention treatment of all rectangular position to the head part, be sampled rate de la Lee ya when you for the use and to or cormorant child to the skin to the heat scratch ∎ you can in prevention to. Because the thermal scratch-resistant full-time (Note1) are placed at the site had close to ground clip on the head part, it is sampled Les To de la Lee ∎ You can ya di one hand in the prevention and this bovine or by the heat scratch.”
Even this kind of “machine translation” may still be somewhat useful to me because some of the words are translated correctly, such as “rectangular position”, (actually, now I remember that I did not use these words in my translation, so this must have been wrong too). But then again, because not too many words are useful, this kind of machine translation is completely useless to a non-translator.Based on the machine translation above, do you have any idea what this new utility model about a minor invention is about? Hint: it is not about “a cormorant child”. Sadly, there were no “cormorant children” in the Japanese text at all.
Incidentally, this is also one reason why I don’t bother using any CAT tools, although the main one is that I simply don’t need them, don’t like them, and despise the way predatory translation agencies are trying to use them to extort illegal discounts for “full and fuzzy matches” from hapless translators.
The discovery I made while translating without having access to a machine translation was the realization that when I don’t have to look at the words in a machine translation because there is none, I experience an exhilarating, almost forgotten feeling of freedom: freedom for me to translate the text the way I understand it, without having to pay attention to what an algorithm thinks the text means.
In the prehistoric times before machine translation was available to me and my clients (20 or 30 years ago), I would usually have three dictionaries on my desk – one to look up characters that I did not know, or used to know but somehow forgot, one standard Japanese dictionary, and one technical dictionary (often more than one).
But then machine translation came along, and instead of looking up characters, words and technical terms in paper dictionaries, I do all of that faster online now.
It speeds up the translating process if I translate a very complicated text in a field that I don’t know all that well, such as biotechnology. But if I have to look at a machine translation when I translate a reasonably simple text in a field that I know quite well, for example a patent about electric design, it slows me down when I have to look at a machine translation as an additional source of information.
And it is definitely advisable to at least take a look at an official machine translation obtained from the Japan Patent Office or the European Patent Office website because I have to assume that my client has this translation and possibly expects me to use the technical terms contained in it. If I don’t used them, I need to have a good reason for not using them, namely because I know that they are wrong.
I really like the feeling of freedom that I experience when I can simply ignore stupid algorithms.
It’s like the old times. I put on some weird music, increase the volume during an easy passage when everything is pretty clear, turn it off for a while if I come across something that for the moment I don’t understand because I have to figure it out first and the music is distracting, and then turn the music back on, but usually at a lower volume.
This, to me, is the natural rhythm of translation, or the natural rhythm of the way I translate. I think that too many tools – CAT tools, machine translation, dictation and transcription software, and God knows what other tools highly entrepreneurial tool merchants with many bills to pay and a limited number of potential customers may come up with – somehow disrupt the natural order of things in the Universe, which tends to send celestial bodies a few degrees off their usual trajectories, thus creating dissonance in the soothing and restful music of spheres that I need to hear in my head when I am on a roll as the mystery of the meaning hidden in a foreign language suddenly becomes clear to me.
Too much of everything spoils the fun for me. J. R. Tolkien wrote the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy in his spare time, usually at night while sitting on his bed in an attic by pecking on a typewriter with only two fingers. No other tools were needed.
Tools are a good thing only if we can use them if we want to use them because we find them useful. Too many cooks spoil the broth, and too many tools spoil the translation, that’s what I think.
And when we are asked to use certain tools for our work, we have to make sure that the tools that we are told to use (or else!) will not turn us into …. tools.