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A Comparison of Human and Machine Translation of Health Promotion Materials for Public Health Practice: Time, Costs, and Quality

AM Turner, M Bergman, M Brownstein, K Cole, and K Kirchhoff (2014)
Journal of Public Health Management and Practice, 20(5):523-529.

CONTEXT:

Most local public health departments serve limited English proficiency groups but lack sufficient resources to translate the health promotion materials that they produce into different languages. Machine translation (MT) with human postediting could fill this gap and work toward decreasing health disparities among non-English speakers.

OBJECTIVES:

(1) To identify the time and costs associated with human translation (HT) of public health documents, (2) determine the time necessary for human postediting of MT, and (3) compare the quality of postedited MT and HT.

DESIGN:

A quality comparison of 25 MT and HT documents was performed with public health translators. The public health professionals involved were queried about the workflow, costs, and time for HT of 11 English public health documents over a 20-month period. Three recently translated documents of similar size and topic were then machine translated, the time for human postediting was recorded, and a blind quality analysis was performed.

SETTING:

Seattle/King County, Washington.

PARTICIPANTS:

Public health professionals.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES:

(1) Estimated times for various HT tasks; (2) observed postediting times for MT documents; (3) actual costs for HT; and (4) comparison of quality ratings for HT and MT.

RESULTS:

Human translation via local health department methods took 17 hours to 6 days. While HT postediting words per minute ranged from 1.58 to 5.88, MT plus human postediting words per minute ranged from 10 to 30. The cost of HT ranged from $130 to $1220; MT required no additional costs. A quality comparison by bilingual public health professionals showed that MT and HT were equivalently preferred.

CONCLUSIONS:

MT with human postediting can reduce the time and costs of translating public health materials while maintaining quality similar to HT. In conjunction with postediting, MT could greatly improve the availability of multilingual public health materials.

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