Can Technology Translate the Soul?

by Simone Visentin

The technological boom in the past few years has brought with it changes in all fields of work; translation is no exception. There are many advantages and disadvantages that technology offers to translators. However, there is still debate about whether literary translation is better with or without technology. Does technology really help in translating the feelings of the author? Perhaps looking at some examples might lead us in the right direction to answering this question.


CAT (Computer Assisted Translation) tools are recommended for every translator to have, as they are software that allow the translator to translate a document faster and more efficiently, such as SDL Trados or MateCat. These tools guarantee a rigorous reliability of cat toolsterminology throughout a document and it also helps avoid repeated mistakes. Furthermore, they minimize the amount of manual work as they contain pre-grammatical and orthographic suggestions. These tools are really handy for technical translations such as contracts or financial translations, which are more likely to have repeated sentences or terminology. However, for literary translation these tools are ineffective, as the meanings of every word and sentence need to be treated on their own. This is often due to cultural factors, which might include idioms or humor. These concepts are still not yet translatable by a machine and are something only a human being can undertake, as it requires in-depth knowledge of the culture of the target language.


Dictionaries are the basis of a translator’s toolkit. Different translators have different opinions on the topic of online dictionaries being better than paper dictionaries. Some dictionarytranslators argue that online dictionaries are better because they simplify the search for terms. Online dictionaries have a quicker look-up time. In addition, with online dictionaries one can use “truncated searches”. This means that if we look up, for example, “biology,” we also turn up “astrobiology” or “molecular biology” and much more. Moreover, many translators argue that the content on online dictionaries is constantly updated, whereas the content on paper dictionaries cannot be updated right away before a new edition gets published. One of the main benefits of online dictionaries is that they are often free. For example, both Collins Dictionary and Oxford dictionaries are free online and are frequently updated. However, it’s also worth having paper dictionaries because they can always be accessed without Internet or electricity – for example, if you end up on that conceptual desert island, it’s best to have a paper dictionary on hand. Many translators prefer to use paper dictionaries, as they might like the feel of real paper in their hands and the feel of touching and looking at something concrete. One of the downsides of paper dictionaries is that they tend to be heavy and hard to carry around. As a translation student myself, I sometimes find myself carrying three dictionaries that are so thick and heavy that I need an extra bag to lug them around. In my opinion, the best solution to this debate is to have both, whether you do legal translation or literary translation.


In order to improve upon or learn new skills, human communication and contact is essential. Many believe that human contact is needed in order for a human to develop and learn. This is true for translators too. A community of translators can be the ideal place to gain more knowledge, network, get inspired, and help or share ideas and opinions. There are numerous translation communities in the world, both online and real. However, there communityis open debate over which one is better. Online communities are great for translators as any translator around the world can join one without leaving home or workplace, since there is no specific place where the community discussions take place. For example, there are communities on or even WordReference (or the ALTA blog!). However, they can lack human contact and sometimes it is hard for translators to network with other colleagues or share ideas and opinions as they might be misinterpreted, or not expressed as they desired. On the other hand, real communities are important to translators because they can give that human contact that a translator needs in order to make new connections and express ideas and opinions effectively. However, these communities take place in a specific part of the world therefore is less accessible for translators who are not in that area or do not live there. Literary translation is all about feelings and emotions and therefore I think that real communities would have a much more positive impact on a literary translator.

I believe that a concrete answer to the technology in translation debate is impossible to come by as different translators may have different points of view. Technology is undoubtedly useful to translators. Nevertheless, literary translation is still one of the most real and human works in translation and therefore, I think that technology cannot replace the human element that allows literature and art to develop through history. The goal of a literary translator is to portray the feelings and emotions of the author into their own language for everyone to feel. At this point in time, technology is still not able to translate these feelings. The literary translator is the only one who can translate the soul.

Simone Visentin is a student in Toronto, Canada. He is working to complete his degree in SimoneCommunication Studies and a certificate in Spanish-English translation at York University. He is passionate about languages and music. He speaks Italian, Spanish, English and French. He is also a songwriter, music producer and Radio Host for Radio Glendon.

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