Is it risky to study to become a book translator since machine translation is becoming increasingly accurate?

A surprising number of translators still parrot the old line (as I did myself, as recently as 2015), that “machines will never substitute humans in translation.”


I beg to differ. In answer to the above question—yes, it is risky: human translators, I’m afraid, are about to go the way of farriers and saddle-makers a century ago.

Since the introduction of Google Translate’s Neural Machine Translation system a little over a year ago, machine translation has become dramatically better, and in my little neck of the woods (Hebrew-English translation, which is more challenging than most), it is now almost on a par with a beginner professional translator.

I predict that within ten years—perhaps less—most translation will be done by a combination of machine translation followed by human editing.

By all means learn to be a translator—but first and foremost, learn to be a good editor, because that’s what will be in demand.

(Originally written in reply to a question at

4 thoughts on “Is it risky to study to become a book translator since machine translation is becoming increasingly accurate?

  1. I routinely use Google-translate to at least create a draft of letters I need to write, since my skills at typing and accurately spelling Hebrew are sadly absent. I then go over them and enjoy understanding exactly *why* what I wrote in English didn’t ‘get across’.
    Since I know perfectly well how to say what I want in carefully-nuanced Hebrew, then what I really need is perhaps a speech – to – text Hebrew writer. (I do sometimes use patient friends in that role(!).
    Also learning to ‘lead the duck’ by making the English version translate easier for the automatons.
    As to translating fiction or poetry, ha, there is no hope even in principle that your skills will ever be un-needed.
    And I have only a handful of my song lyrics which I succeeded in translating, with intact parallel rhymes, to Hebrew or vice versa.
    Thanks, fellow Yoni, for the inspiring post… and shabbat shalom! (Google sez ‘Saturday Peace’ -sic-

    Liked by 1 person

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