What is Machine Translation Pre-editing?

What is Machine Translation Pre-editing?

Post-editing machine translation is attracting an increasing interest and many linguists already specialise in providing this service. Corrections made by post-editors are used to re-train MT engines and therefore improve the machine translation output over time. However, post-editing is not the only way in which humans can boost the quality of machine translation.

What is pre-editing

Pre-editing happens before a given document is machine translated. Some call it different terms such as “global readiness” or “global readiness editing”. It can involve tasks of varying complexity and ideally is carried out by a skilled editor who is able to analyse the source copy from the perspective of an MT engine. The editor anticipates any potential errors that might occur in the machine translation and amends the source document to make it easier for the engine to translate.

This process includes:

  • reducing sentence length
  • unifying terminology if it is inconsistent throughout the text
  • correcting spelling and punctuation errors
  • simplifying grammatical structures such as subordinate clauses
  • adding articles and pronouns
  • removing any ambiguities

What’s more, as part of the process, the editor normally makes use of automatic spell-checking and grammar-checking tools. They might also tag any elements that should not be translated. In some cases, pre-editing also means adapting the source copy to closer match the type of content the MT engine has been trained with.

Just like post-editing, pre-editing can be done with varying levels of intensity, so it is important to determine what the expected outcome should look like upfront.

If carried out correctly, pre-editing can dramatically reduce or, in certain cases, even completely eliminate the need for post-editing.

Why consider pre-editing

There are a number of reasons why pre-editing a text before it is translated might be a good idea. First and foremost, it is likely to maximise the chances of machine translation output being of good quality and in turn, reduce the time that will be needed for post-editing. The productivity boots can be clearly noted especially when the source document is not well written and it is to be translated into a number of languages. The more target languages there are, the more time will be saved thanks to pre-editing.

The above is also directly related to cost savings, something that both language service providers and clients always look for as part of their business strategy.

What’s more, pre-editing can alleviate some of the linguists’ frustrations as it saves them from correcting some of the repetitive errors regularly coming up in the machine translation output.

Finally, it is also beneficial from an end-user experience. Better localised content means better customer experience.

When to pre-edit

It might be worth considering pre-editing in large projects with several target languages as time and cost saving will effectively be multiplied by the number of languages.

However, it is also advisable to remember that pre-editing is not a magical solution to all machine translation errors. There will be instances where adopting this approach is not absolutely necessary or simply doesn’t offer a good return on investment. When the source text is already of good quality and the machine translation engines have been trained on the domain-specific resources, then pre-editing might not bring a considerable improvement and the time spent on pre-editing will not be offset by shorter post-editing time.

Other things to consider

The discussion around pre-editing raises a question whether writers of the original source texts should be conscious of the fact that their pieces might be translated or even machine translated at some point in the future and adjust their way of writing accordingly. This MultiLingual magazine article gives some useful tips regarding writing content that is destined for translation.

On one hand, it could mean a reduced need for pre-editing, significantly better translation outcomes and time efficiencies. On the other hand, it could limit writers’ creative expression and mean a less enjoyable experience for the target readers of the text in the original language.

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