Should raw machine translation be used for public-health information? Suggestions for a multilingual communication policy in Catalonia

Anthony Pym, Nune Ayvazyan, Jonathan Maurice Prioleau


As Catalonia becomes increasingly multicultural as a result of immigration on many levels, official government communications are received by speakers of numerous different languages. For some languages, this is achieved through the employment of qualified translators. For the non-official languages, however, there is increasing reliance on the use of free online machine translation, explicitly without human correction (“post-editing”). Here we survey the use of Google Translate on the official website of the Catalan health service, focusing on COVID-19 vaccination information in 2021 and 2022. We identify the strategic advantages of machine translation and then survey the nature of the main errors made, some of which border on the incomprehensible and self-contradictory. It is proposed that a multilingual communication policy is needed for the mitigation of errors not just through the judicious use of translation memory software and efficient post-editing, but most especially by writing texts in such a way that the machine translation problems are solved before they appear (“pre-editing”). In the relative absence of policies for non-official languages, strategic planning is required in order to ensure that the benefits of machine translation can work towards a more inclusive society, rather than alienate users who merely see their language being abused.


Machine translation; post-editing; pre-editing; social inclusion

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