Tell us, does this sound familiar? You read a text, you read it again. You go over it one more time. Something seems a little off, though you can’t quite place your finger on it. You wonder who wrote it and, of course, whether ‘someone’ wrote it. In short, there is an artificial flavor to it.

Is AI the way to go with translation?


AI: a friend with benefits?

In recent years, the terms artificial intelligence, machine learning and algorithm, have increasingly become part of everyday conversations and our work vocabulary. Every day there’s a new article or a news item on the subject, often with the conclusion that AI is getting better at everything. It writes better texts, makes better diagnoses, creates better art, composes better music. And now translates better too(?). A world without language barriers seems to be getting just within reach, with AI. The question is, can you completely trust what it presents to us?

No (predictable) choco cravings

We’ll be the first to admit – AI doesn’t come with human quirks. It doesn’t drink three cups of coffee a day, doesn’t need to stretch its legs, and certainly doesn’t go crazy in the afternoon looking for a pick-me-up piece of chocolate or snack. In other words, AI is fast, convenient and time-saving. I am not opposed to AI. It is a welcome addition to my tools for daily work. But it does lack one essential thing – the human touch. This is because OpenAI and other language models are not designed to apply grammatically correct language. Let alone give meaning and thought to the written word. The programs simply apply translation based on the most common sequence of words and put that into a coherent whole. In other words, they perform a predictive task. 

The ‘perfect’ translation

Translation, at its core, is a creative endeavour. It takes context into account – both social and cultural. What makes translation so much fun is the puzzle that it is. The challenge of translating an incredibly Dutch phrase, into crisp English (to give just one example). To translate a text well, it is important to learn more about the targeted language and read articles in that language regularly. When I translate a text, the sentences have a completely different structure, but the gist remains the same. For me, that is the essence of translation. You add something and take something away. I give myself artistic freedom in translating and read the text until it is perfect. But… there is no such thing as a perfect translation. Languages differ too much and are constantly evolving. A perfect, or rather, a well-translated text, offers an optimal reading experience when it is not only error-free, but overall coherent and creative.

Unfortunately, peanut cheese: Creativity as the missing link

In other words, translation is more than translating word for word. As a translator, you make stylistic considerations and apply cultural nuances. It is precisely these nuances that make the text lively and the flow smooth. And perhaps needless to say, those nuances are (currently) still lacking in AI. Which is how ‘helaas pindakaas’ = ‘unfortunately, peanut cheese’. At Factor Tachtig we translate our blogs, cases and other content ourselves. The texts often contain metaphors, imagery or other figurative language. Which is why it is important to look at the whole rather than the isolated meaning of the words. And that brings us back to the indispensable role of the translator. Because with just translations, without editing by a writer with knowledge of the source text or target language, chances are your story will become incoherent or incomprehensible.

Bringing HI and AI together

I can hear you thinking – translate or not to translate with AI? I think the answer is not so black and white. On one hand you have the creativity of a translator, which is indispensable, but on the other is the speed of AI. Therefore, a combination of artificial intelligence and human thought is my answer to the question. Artificial intelligence presents a real opportunity for translators. Because the translation is fairly clean, there is more room for editing. Time is saved, but you still have a high-quality translated text. A win-win, I think. Of course, you can also ask yourself whether you should approach every text creatively. A manual on how to assemble a bed – depending on how you frame it, of course – needs little creative mojo. In other words, a job that AI can do just fine.

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Transcreation vs Translation

But that is certainly not true of every AI translated text. Just look at the first sentence of our home page: ‘Factor Tachtig creëert aantrekkingskracht’. If we let AI do the translation, we end up with ‘creates appeal’. It is acceptable, but ‘drives attraction’, now that is an active statement. And the same goes for the slogan ‘Maak je merk’ which translates to ‘create your brand’. What we actually mean though is ‘Build your brand’. Small nuances, big difference. Do you see it, too? Sometimes you need transcreation, not just translation. Transcreation involves combining creative copywriting and translation, to communicate effectively with your target audience. In conclusion, it’s about making effective choices. What is your goal? Your target audience? And what fits your brand? All of these are important factors to consider. I’m curious to hear your take on this topic. Do you let AI translate your texts? And if so, do you already trust it blindly?

Do you have any other questions about translating with or without AI. We are a bilingual agency who are happy to think and strategize with you in two languages.

PS: No AI tools were hurt while writing this! Curious about the original blog in Dutch? Find it here.

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Want to brainstorm? Have a question? Contact: Marie