Machine translation (MT) engines have improved by leaps and bounds with natural language processing (NLP) and industries across the globe are successfully using it to localize high volumes of content.
But even though MT systems can save time, money and resources, they are not a perfect solution due to the complexity and subtleties of human language and communication. And when it comes to legal documents, contracts and judicial forms, there's no room for error, with one mistake bringing potentially severe consequences.
As a means of avoiding mistranslations, law offices and courts have turned to post-editing, a process by which professional human post-editors improve the content by performing an agreed level of editing.
What is legal post-editing?
Specialist post-editing is essential when machine translation doesn’t yield the quality required. But what is it exactly?
Post-editing is a process whereby linguists or language experts assess the content produced by MT systems and amend any errors made.
In essence, the role of a legal post-editor combines that of a proofreader and a linguistic reviewer. They not only correct spelling, grammar and punctuation issues, they modify machine-translated sentences that sound clunky, use the wrong terminology or relate an inaccurate concept. Post-editors are knowledgeable in how MT engines work and process language, but are also skilled in tailoring their level of revision to the desired level of quality.
A sliding scale of quality
There are varying levels of effort required depending on the quality demands of the client. Light and full post-editing are the two general standards, with shades of grey between them.
A more subtle modification process, light post-editing involves taking the raw MT content and making as few alterations as possible. The aim is to create an understandable, accurate and clear translation without rewriting the entire text.
Light post-editing tasks include:
- Adjusting glaring typos, spelling mistakes and grammatical errors;
- Ensuring that keywords and terminology remain consistent without conducting time-consuming research;
- Altering poorly translated sentences; and
- Deleting unnecessary translations made by the MT system.
Light post-editing is not an easy feat for detail-oriented translators, and language perfectionists may have to turn the other cheek when it comes to more intricate editing issues.
The focus of light post-editing is speed and as such, linguists need to maintain a certain level of efficiency in their work.
Full post-editing is a slower, more comprehensive approach to editing machine-translated output, with linguists being required to generate flawlessly translated content. Not only does full post-editing include surface-level changes, it also requires amendments to terminology and context.
Full post-editing tasks include:
- Comparing the terminology against accurate and relevant resources to ensure consistency;
- Checking translations against appropriate language resources;
- Ensuring that cultural context is in accordance with the target language;
- Providing fluent, easy to read content for the target audience;
- Adapting all idioms, colloquialisms and sayings;
- Correcting the content's format; and
- Fixing all spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors.
Full post-editing is all about top quality. It requires translators to meticulously review every aspect of the content to ensure absolute perfection.
Understandably, full post-editing requires more time than light post-editing. (But if full post-editing takes more time than translating from scratch, your law firm must decide if MT is worth it in the first place.)
Qualities of a legal post-editor
In addition to bilingualism and professional experience as an editor, there are certain traits that great post-editors should have to be successful in their roles. Here are just a few of the most important qualities and skills possessed by effective legal post-editors.
Knowledge of MT engines
Though legal post-editing is a linguistics role, a post-editor must also have an in-depth understanding of MT functions. The ability to identify reoccurring MT mistranslations and adapt your strategy accordingly is just as crucial as having a grasp on language and translation.
Subject matter expertise
As with any profession, it's important to have strong expertise in the subject matter of your work, otherwise you'll most likely fail to convey the right message and ideas. Legal post-editors are no different; a strong knowledge of the jargon and vernacular is a must if they wish to produce accurate content.
Ability to calibrate effort based on the quality level required
Above all else, a post-editor should be able to spot mistakes—whether in language, spelling or syntax—without the aid of spell checkers or other software. However, these adjustments should be limited to only what is necessary to change and not cater to personal preferences—something that is common among inexperienced post-editors.
Tips for up-and-coming legal post-editors
New post-editors should follow these quick tips to help boost output and improve success in a legal post-editing role.
- Utilize as much MT-generated content as you possibly can.
- Read your briefs carefully, as each client will have individual preferences and guidelines.
- Don’t edit well-translated content for the sake of linguistic flare. If a word or phrase is clearly translated, you're not obligated to enhance the writing.
- Be very aware of the level of quality required and know how to adjust your effort accordingly.
- Keep an open mind about MT. A tool will never replace human judgment and knowledge, and it's important to evolve with the industry.
The future of legal post-editors and MT engines
With the judicial system relying on software tools to keep up with the constant influx of supporting content, MT engines will continue to be a part of legal proceedings. Regardless of this, MT engines cannot fulfil translation demands by themselves without the human understanding of language complexities and context. That’s why legal post-editors are here to stay. Their presence in the industry ensures quality, consistency and an overall well-oiled translation system.