Computer translation vs. human being

Not the yellow from the egg – or how was it again?


It is always the same topic: human being vs. computer, brain vs. artificial intelligence, creature vs. PC. This is a fight we have every day and of course the question appears: translator or machine?

Right at the start: beyond doubt there are good technical tools, but they will never replace a studied linguist. A machine might be able to remember more vocabulary than a human being. However, it never will be able to combine grammar connections, cultural differences and technical knowledge at once. A human being is able, also if he checks his translation for good measure in a dictionary.

There are countless (funny) examples that a machine might not be the perfect translator:

  • A „body bag“ in English means the sleeve around a corpse. In German this is just a shoulder bag.
  • There is a big difference sometimes between American and British English. However, quite seldomly machines know the difference. An example is the term “Handy“ in German. While Britons call it “mobile phone“, Americans say “cell phone“.
  • Especially idioms are hard to recognize for machines. They translate them literally and as a consequence the idiom doesn’t make sense anymore. „Nicht das Gelbe vom Ei“ is in English “Not the yellow from the egg“ – isn’t it?


The requirements and what machines are able to do:

Languages are chaotic and vivid.
It is true that computers provide an enormous data storage, but they need exact instructions and are based on order.
Often texts contain more information than only the words they are written with. They express feelings, impart knowledge or investigate technical subjects.
Machines translate modul after modul using the vocabulary they find in their data storage. They cannot read between the lines and also cannot correctly translate incomplete sentences.
Texts can be quite complicated and not easy to read or understand. Thus, a text analysis is nearly always necessary.
A computer will only ask: „A text analysis? What is this?” – ERROR
Figures of speech and in particular cultural differences should be considered when translating.
You should try yourself to find figures of speech in data storage. Do you find any?

The question is: would you trust the tinny alternative or the invincible synapse connections of a translator when you need a translation into a language you do not know like your mother tongue?