This article was originally published in September 2016 and has been updated.
The process of one person translating from one language into another, especially when it involves corporate and legal documents, can be very slow and belabored. In a multinational and multilingual investigation that requires hundreds or thousands of documents to be translated, it’s impossible for human translators to get the job done in time.
Thankfully, translation technology has long been expanding upon human capabilities. Discoveries and innovations in data collecting, crowdsourcing and software continuously develop the speed and accuracy with which enormous amounts of documents can be translated without using a live person.
However, such technologies are not perfect yet and they won’t be for a while. And although they’re all but necessary in any international investigation – they cannot do the job on their own.
Use Both Human and Machine Translators for the Best Results
It takes a sense of balance and some strategic thinking to use the wide range of available translation methods and technologies effectively.
Always consult with your language service provider as you make decisions about the method of translation most appropriate for your project scope. Here are a few pointers on how to best use translation processes (both machine and human) to conquer a multilingual litigation.
How to Use Machine Translation
Machine Translation (MT) technology is particularly useful for removing unrelated or unnecessary documents from an investigation. Foreign language keyword identification and MT can dramatically reduce the number of documents that require human translators.
In foreign language keyword identification, certain terms or phrases are provided by legal experts (usually lawyers) that are then translated into the source language. Documents without these key words can then be put aside as the investigation continues.
Simultaneously, the documents that contain many of those same phrases are marked as particularly relevant by the system. Only relevant documents go on to more precise (and more expensive) rounds of human translation.
This process can search and sort thousands of documents in a fraction of the time and cost of a human translator.
MT operates in a similar way to foreign language keyword identification. Documents processed by the MT technology are roughly translated and then filtered by keywords or phrases. This again decreases the amount of documents that require human translation.
How to Use Human Translators
After these technologies identify important documents and discard irrelevant ones, human translators can then be used most effectively and precisely. Fewer documents mean that the process can now be far more time- and cost-efficient.
Yet even at the stage of human translation, there are still a number of different avenues to choose from. They range from complete and full translations to simple summaries. Depending on the nature of the individual document or the investigation it may not be necessary to translate each document completely.
Summary translations are the rough translation of a few sentences rather than the full translation of the entire document. They are a way for human translators to get a rough idea of a document's contents, similar to machine methods.
Additionally, human summary translations have the added benefit of not being limited by the quality of a document (to a point). Where MT methods most often require clean type to work, a human translator can work from corrupted type or handwriting. A human translator can also recognize human errors like typos, sloppy spelling or grammar mistakes.
But a human translator is most important when it comes to full translations. Technology has not yet produced a machine or program that can translate with as much precision or nuance as an individual or a team of human translators.
Translators will often have some specialized knowledge in corporate best practices or litigation. They can take only the most important documents as identified by machines or summaries and go through the slower, more thorough process of full translation.
A Strategic Combination Is Key
Combining machine and human translating to pluck out key documents ensures the fact that documents that reach the full translation stage are fully necessary to the investigation and well worth the extra cost. Utilizing both technology and people makes the legal process much faster and more useful for everyone involved.
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