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A Human Approach to Machine Translation

Laura Casanellas is a machine translation expert with 20 years of experience in the localization industry. In total, eight of those years she has spent working in machine translation.

During her career, she’s had the opportunity to work in many different positions, such as vendor management, quality management and programme management.

She’s also been part of a machine translation provider’s internal team, working as a product manager and heading up their professional services team.

Laura has trained internal teams in machine translation technology and mentored them during the process of acquisition and deployment of MT.

All of these things have given her a very unique position of being able to assess how MT affects all aspects of the localization workflow.

Laura’s approach to machine translation is a very human one, taking something that’s very technical, very complicated, and making it easily understandable to non-technical people.

“I had to do it for myself when I started with machine translation because I am not a technical person per se,” Laura said.

“I’ve learned a lot since I started, but I come from a linguistic background myself, so I needed to first make sense of it in my head to be able to then teach and make sure our team understood it, which was my first task.”

Laura recognises that some people may feel uncomfortable with the pace of technological change in localization, but she believes that MT is just one more new technology in an industry that is heavily reliant on technology already.

“I think something that is true – and it’s not related to machine translation specifically – is that humans feel that technology is running ahead of us and that makes us feel really uneasy and uncomfortable,” she said.

“But on the other hand, we are very quick to adapt to new technologies – like we all have smartphones. We don’t think about it anymore.

“So what I mean is that it’s just another technology to help us in localization where there are a lot of technologies already.”

In her role as a MT trainer and mentor, Laura considers fear to be the main obstacle preventing new adoption of the technology.

“From my point of view, what I see is that one of the main obstacles is fear. It’s just pure human fear to the unknown,” she said.

“People will say ‘I don’t know how to implement this. I don’t know if it is for me. Is it going to work for my content? How am I going to onboard my vendors or my freelancers? How am I going to price this? Am I going to make a profit?’ Those are some of the questions that people rightly ask.”

“So I always say, ‘Try it. Just start,’ right? I mean you are not going to lose that much for trying to make it work for you.”

And when you start, Laura advises keeping it simple, starting small and learning from your mistakes.

“Keep it simple and start small – unless obviously a client comes and says I want this and I want it in so many languages.

“But if somebody is doing it just to test and to learn, just do it small with a couple of language pairs, maybe a couple of machine translation providers. And while you are doing it, learn, make loads of mistakes. Learn from them.”

“So just start small. You don’t commit any risks and you learn what you are doing.”

If you want to know more about this area, visit Lion People Global’s website where you can watch back our LT Talks series of videos where we have talked to some of the industry leaders in localization for their insights into the world of translation.

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