Will LLMs (Large Language Models) Replace Professional Translators?

Feb 28, 2024

Today, the insatiable demand for swift and precise translation continues to increase. Whether for business, travel, or personal endeavors, LLMs stand as a pivotal tool in bridging linguistic gaps. But how does this modern technology compare to traditional translation methods, and what should professional translators be looking out for? Will LLMs replace professional translators?

The Magic Behind LLMs (Large Language Models)

LLMs follow cutting-edge AI algorithms to make automatic translation possible. Be it a website, a promotional pamphlet, or a detailed document, LLMs are capable to tackle translations. At its core, LLMs consist of two main parts: a machine learning algorithm and an abundant data set. This algorithm is trained on specific data sets until it reaches a point where it meets proper measurements and standards to accurately replicate previous translations. Next this customized data is fed into an AI-powered system that can translate from one language to another with phenomenal speed and moderate accuracy.In successful cases a translation can read like it was written by a native speaker. The level of a professional translator. This technological advancement is approaching new milestones daily and possibly may achieve flawless translations in the future to come. If it reaches its potential, we may have systems that fully understand the syntax and grammar of language itself. Not to mention, advanced error detection features where AI quality control can quickly and accurately detect mistakes. The ultimate scenario is AI driven LLMs never making mistakes. By this time professional translators will become obsolete. When this becomes reality though is hard to say.

Deciphering the World of Translation Tools: LLMs vs. CAT Tools

Many different translation tools exist and cater to different needs. For example, CAT (Computer-Assisted Translation) tools have been a companion to professional translators for a long time now. Brands such as Trados, MemoQ, and Phrase to mention a few have provided various features and services to meet the professional translators demands. Unfortunately, prices have hiked in recent years and what was once an investment is becoming a heavy cost burden. We are seeing though new solutions such as Doc3™ which provide an affordable subscription service including essentials a professional translator requires. The CAT tool landscape is changing as LLMs are becoming more ubiquitous. For certain subjects LLMs like DeepL and Google Translate can be effective providing a base translation which professional translators can post edit. This is a new approach for professional translators to increase efficiency and speed. But this approach works only when LLMs are accurate. Translation is not only about transferring text from one language to another. Translation is about capturing the essence, context, and subtle nuances of the original content. At times using culture specific references and idioms. This capability is difficult with LLMs, and professional translators are depended upon to facilitate this accurate communicative art form when translating. The professional translator can see immediately what is wrong or missing. This is what LLMs lack for the time being. It is getting better fast, but it is not quite there yet.

Why Professional Translators Prefer Using CAT Tools?

Despite the advancements of LLMs, professional translators continue to rely on CAT tools. Here’s why:

Contextual Understanding: While LLMs are improving, they still struggle with context, especially in complex, cultural, or specialized texts. Post editing automatic translations which have questionable quality can be laborious and often become task intensive taking more time than traditional translation. LLMs are usually not case specific and can help when it fits but CAT tools are the go-to tool assisting translators during their translation process.

Cultural Nuances: Language is deeply intertwined with culture. Professional translators, using CAT tools, can ensure that translations are culturally sensitive and appropriate, something LLMs often miss.

Translation Memory: One of the most significant advantages of CAT tools is Translation Memory (TM). TMs store previously translated segments, ensuring consistency across large projects or multiple projects for the same client. LLMs have enormous amounts of data but often have unrelated material included causing confusion and potential mistakes with its output.

Terminology Management: For projects that have specific terminology, CAT tools allow translators to maintain consistent use of terms, ensuring clarity and professionalism.

Tailored Solutions: CAT tools can be customized to fit the specific needs of a project or client, from creating glossaries to setting up specific workflows. This is possible for LLMs but is extremely cost intensive and there isn’t a guarantee the quality will meet the client’s standards.

Multiple File Formats: Professional translators often receive documents in various specialized file formats. CAT tools support a wide range of file formats, allowing translators to work seamlessly eliminating the need for different kinds of software and specialist skills.

Collaborative Features: Many CAT tools offer features that facilitate collaboration among multiple translators, proofreaders, and editors, ensuring the final product is shared to integrate proper quality control.

Feedback Integration: CAT tools allow for the easy integration of feedback, making revisions and quality assurance a streamlined process. LLMs are not self-conscious and are incapable of detecting its own mistakes.

Reuse of Translations: With the help of TMs, translators can easily reuse parts of translations, reducing the time spent on repetitive and similar text segments and thus cutting down costs. On the other hand, many LLMs retranslate all materials forcing translators to recheck the output wasting valuable resources.

Segmentation: CAT tools break texts into manageable segments, allowing translators to efficiently tackle, review, and revise their work.

What Role Does LLMs Play for Professional Translators Who Use CAT Tools?

For seasoned professional translators, CAT tools aren’t merely about ease of use. They’re about project management, productivity enhancement, consistency monitoring, and quality control. With features like grammar checking, error detection, glossaries, and translation memories, the translation process becomes not just faster, but also sharper and accurate. With relentless advancements in LLMs, the potential of automatic translation software is set to soar, but currently human know-how is still essential. Nevertheless, as these tools become even more refined, maybe one day translations will not be just accurate but communicate at a meta cognitive level eventually removing the chasm between different languages and cultures. In any case, professional translators should prepare, learn, and work with CAT tools while incorporating LLMs to stay competitive. Accepting inevitability early gives you an edge comparing to others who don’t. Don’t paddle against the LLM wave but ride it to your advantage.

Conclusion: The Translation Revolution

LLMs are a translation revolution. For professional translators, adapting and embracing LLMs isn’t a mere choice – it’s key to thriving in a dynamic linguistic landscape that’s steadily evolving.

CAT tools like Doc3™ will prepare professional translators to be better equipped more than ever to deliver top-tier translations, meeting the demands of an ever-globalizing world.

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