ChatGPT and translations

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17 Feb 2023 | Industry insights
Screenshot-2023-02-17-at-10.48.37 Screenshot-2023-02-17-at-10.48.50 Screenshot-2023-02-17-at-10.49.07 Screenshot-2023-02-17-at-10.49.25 Screenshot-2023-02-17-at-10.49.36 Screenshot-2023-02-17-at-10.49.47 Screenshot-2023-02-17-at-10.50.08 Screenshot-2023-02-17-at-10.50.22-2 Gradient with White R

In this insightful article, English language lead at Trip.com, Alex Moore took some time to see for himself what ChatGPT was capable of, and how it could affect the translation profession.

Based in Shanghai, day-to-day Alex and his team handle a whole host of language requirements for Trip.com’s various social channels, such as UI strings, EDMs (Electronic Document Management System) social media posts, legal writing, and more.

Over to Alex.

Does it spell the end of human translators?

As a translator, the sudden widespread availability of ChatGPT has been disconcerting for me, just as it no doubt has for anyone whose career revolves around the written word. Though we translators are perhaps more familiar with the fear of being replaced by AI than most (thanks to Google Translate and other powerful machine translation software being around for years), this still feels like a huge sea change for the translation profession. An irrevocable lurch into the unknown and, quite frankly, terrifying.

Reading around online, I found that most sources, including ChatGPT itself, were reassuring me that the model would help white-collar workers like me – not replace us. Naturally, I dismissed these assertions as naïve and wishful thinking. I would not be dissuaded from my conviction that the end was nigh.

But having sat down with ChatGPT to work on some basic Chinese-to-English translation, I’m happy to report that I now get what those hopeful voices were telling me. Yes, it’s ludicrously intelligent. Yes, it’s a little scary. But I came away with the feeling that I am as important to the process of translation as it is.

Chatting with ChatGPT

At the time of our dialogue, I was working on a translation for a website. The content was B2B marketing related – the task was to translate selling points for an advertising platform.

First up, I asked it about a term that had been eluding me the day before…

Screenshot-2023-02-17-at-10.48.37

So far, so predictable. It was a detailed response, but nothing I couldn’t have found using a decent dictionary or Baike page. So, I continued…

Screenshot-2023-02-17-at-10.48.50

This was far more impressive. ChatGPT not only solved a question that had taken me ages to confirm with colleagues the previous day (several of whom had never even heard the word used in this way despite being native Chinese speakers), but it also gave me a detailed reason for why this rather scientific term has been adopted in marketing circles.

Fearing the worst, I asked it to translate a short passage…

Screenshot-2023-02-17-at-10.49.07

But hang on: that’s not a good translation at all. Yes, it’s literally what the Chinese says, but we don’t really use “precipitating” in this way in English.

I pointed this out to ChatGPT…

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This shows that ChatGPT still needs human input to determine the context, despite the fact I’d previously mentioned that we’re talking about marketing.

I continued…

Screenshot-2023-02-17-at-10.49.36

That’s undoubtedly better. However, this copy is aimed at hotel groups, and the “flagship” in question is the reader’s brand. So, it should either be “you”/”your hotel” or we should do away with the subject altogether and write in the imperative mood.

I suggested this to ChatGPT…

Screenshot-2023-02-17-at-10.49.47

But what ChatGPT doesn’t know is that this is website copy and will appear in a small space. This is way too long. It should be punchy and simply tell the reader what they can do with the service we’re selling. Also, we don’t need to tell the reader they’re the representative of the hotel; they know that already.

I tried to emphasise this…

Screenshot-2023-02-17-at-10.50.08

This isn’t much better, but that’s on me, too. My prompt was not detailed and too specific – I literally said “use ‘you’”, and ChatGPT did what was asked. As many people have noted, getting to grips with these prompts is going to become an important skill across all industries in future if ChatGPT continues its ascent.

So, I came out with my own suggestion…

Screenshot-2023-02-17-at-10.50.22-2

It’s still way too long, but that’s to be expected because I didn’t give a word limit. Other than that, it’s a pretty good translation. Hurray!

Takeaways

I learned the following from my short exchange with ChatGPT

  • Knowledge of languages and industries is still important: I needed to know Chinese to focus specifically on the word that was troubling me, and I need to know that the first English translation was poor because the terminology wasn’t suitable.
  • Context is everything: ChatGPT doesn’t know where content is going to appear, and without this, there’s simply no way it will provide a suitable translation in many scenarios.
  • Prompts are important: My prompt game is still lacking, as we saw above. To get the full benefits ChatGPT can provide, we need to provide efficient and detailed prompts.
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