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Why Can’t AI Replace a Legal Translator?

Pretty much everything is automated nowadays, so why not let the machines deal with your foreign language document translations? While machines provide a valuable, time-saving option, you’ll want to hire a human legal translator for important documents. Here are three reasons why.

1. A Human is a Better Legal Speak Translator

Legal speak, legalese—it’s all Greek to basic software. 

While the average automated translation tool may translate plain conversation with relative accuracy, they begin to break down when it comes to international legal translation projects. 

Specialised legal language is unlike casual or professional language. This is a problem if the AI learns to translate from common emails, publications, and documents. This training data doesn’t prepare AI to make relevant translations when it comes to industry terms or structural elements. 

A human legal translator, on the other hand, has studied the law in their native language. They’re able to make informed decisions when translating specialised language. They can also apply their knowledge of regulations, privacy standards, and formatting. 

2. AI is More Likely to Make Mistakes

On its own, AI isn’t perfect. In fact, it has a pretty high word error rate. 

The last big study shows even the top automated translation tools only make the correct choice roughly 85% of the time. The other 15% of the time, they choose the wrong word.

This can happen for a variety of reasons. However, the most common culprit is when AI chooses the word that’s statistically more likely but ultimately incorrect. That’s because some AI struggles to read the context clues that help with translating synonyms or slang. 

A human legal translator can think laterally, picking up context clues to choose the most appropriate substitution in the target language. According to the University of Tilburg’s study Machine Translationese, humans make more lexically rich translations as a result.

A human’s lateral thinking also results in fewer mistakes. The top agencies promise a 99.8% accuracy rate—head and shoulders above AI on its own.

3. Only Humans Can Provide Certified Work

Certified translation services come with specific assurances that AI can’t offer. For a translation to become certified, it must be performed by a qualified legal translator, and they must swear that their work is accurate and true. 

No such assurance exists from an automated tool alone. The only way machine-based work can be certified is if a human translator edits the work, producing a final copy that upholds the translator’s legal standards. 

This is an option from most credible agencies. It’s called post-editing, and it refines the automated approach when you need the speed of a machine but the accuracy of a human. 

Bottom Line

A human translator is your best option for sensitive legal documents or client-facing communications. They’re attuned to the specialised language required of your industry, and they produce work free of error.

That’s not to say machine translation has no place in your practice. However, you should speak with a translation service agency before you adopt it as a full replacement. 

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