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Is my job as a translator now in danger?

I thought artificial intelligence was set to be the biggest threat to human translators, but Duolingo is set to provide translations through crowd sourcing.

Should I be looking for another profession? Should teachers not be concerned about this too?

January 13, 2013



Before real translators' jobs are in danger, crowd sourced translations will have to find a way to get participation from large numbers of people who are quite fluent in two languages. Using language learning beginners to make translations means a lot of error is involved, as you can see if you look at the "finished" translations on this site for a few minutes.

I imagine real translators will always be needed especially for documents where a particular tone has to be preserved (eg. a writer's sense of humor). For that matter, crowdsourcing will likely never be the right answer for translating anything literary, longer documents where translators have to take the time to understand the context, or technical writing where accuracy is important.


No it's not. As you can very well see by looking at even the best translations on this site, most of the translations for sentences that need a little bit of context are of bad quality, because we usually don't bother reading the whole article (let alone study the subject in required depth).


Maybe, but this is just the beginning. As more people join, the quality will improve. This is how Wikipedia works and I see no reason why this platform won't grow rapidly either.

What interests me is the combination of increasingly capable artificial intelligence (think of Siri and apply Moore's Law) and free-of-charge crowd-sourced translation services.

The future has arrived for language learning and translation work. You ain't seen nothin' yet!


Wikipedia has it's uses but in some areas it's really quite bad. For instance, more technical subjects are usually written about by people who have studied them extensively but don't really know how to explain them to the common man. It's like a textbook, but worse!


I think teachers should be excited about the advances that we're making on learning and education. It would be counter-intuitive, yet selfish for teachers to not want technology that make learning easier to be available to the masses. I can understand the psychology behind that concern. Looking at the general reading and education level in some parts of the world, this opens new doors and possibilities for the masses.

I feel that people will always want a human teacher/tutor to practice speaking with when it comes to languages. Perhaps the trend is moving towards 1v1 mentoring.


I'm also a teacher of technical English for computer science students. My research has brought me here as well as on Coursera, EdX and the Khan Academy. What I have seen so far is extremely exciting and I await further developments, especially at the university where I teach in Germany.


Those are fantastic sites! Thank you for sharing~


I don't think so. First of all, there is plenty of stuff that is confidential and cannot be trusted to general public. I'm a professional translator, too, and our company translates a lot of user manuals, software and other stuff not intended to be public until the release of the product.

Then, it is really faster to have a professional translator translate your text accurately and naturally than to wait until a decent translation is produced by a community of volunteers making edits over and over again. If you work as a translator, you should know there are instructions and style guides, the style and terminology have to be consistent, etc. Only those who are paid can be held responsible for all those intricacies.

And, of course, a professional translator must be very good at his native language. This skill is polished for years of work. You can't take just any native speaker and be sure he/she will provide a high quality text.


I really don't think so. The translations are serviceable, usually, but they are no substitute for a well-trained translator.

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