DeepL – not too bad, even if it turns marriage into war

After Microsoft Translate and Google Translate, last week I decided to take a closer look at DeepL’s beta desktop application. I had to prepare over 50 Power Point slides filled with text about quite a number of rulings of the European Court of Justice. I was pretty sure these would be read out at high speed in the meeting and I had no time to prepare in their entirety. As DeepL’s neural networks were trained on the basis of Linguee’s databases, I had half hoped that if I had the original text of an ECJ ruling, or part of an EU regulation, DeepL would just magically replace the English text with the official German version and save me the hassle of looking it up in Eurlex or Curia myself. Admittedly, I was also tempted by DeepL’s extremely user-friendly handling: You simply highlight the word or text you need to be translated, Press CTRL+C twice, see if you like the translation and press Enter to replace the original text with the translation. Also, if there is a particular word you don’t like in the translation proposed, you click on it and DeepL offers you alternatives to choose from in a drop-down menu (improving its own system on the basis of the user’s choice). I was then a bit disappointed to see that DeepL didn’t just replace the official English version of an EU text with the official German version, with both of them being readily available on the internet.  No human translator would take the trouble of translating something that has already been translated and/or verified by expert translators. But then DeepL obviously is not pretending to be human …

All in all, I find the quality of the translation quite impressive. A sample translation from English into German and vice versa is included at the bottom of this article. Of course, it goes without saying that machine-translated texts are not there to be read out pretending you are interpreting simultaneously or you pre-translated it yourself. And also that when using your client’s confidential data, you buy DeepL Pro to make sure no such information is saved on DeepL’s servers. Apart from these banalities, these are some points that require special attention:

Consistency: The same term may be translated differently in the same paragraph. I had nominal value translated into Nennwert and Nominalwert.

Context: When a person invests in a certificate issued by a bank, it is clearly a Zertifikat in German and not an Urkunde.

Plausibility: When an investor brings a tort action against a bank, this does not mean Ein Anleger leitet eine unerlaubte Handlung gegen eine Bank ein (i.e. the investor acts unlawfully) – as this means rather the opposite. The official German version talks of erhobene Klage wegen Haftung dieser Bank aus unerlaubter Handlung.

Robustness: Make sure your original text has no typos! There are typos that are not detected (yet) by machines, because the „wrong“ word is actually a real word, too. Such tiny mistakes often go unnoticed by human readers, because we tend to auto-correct them on the basis of the words we expect to read in a certain context. However, such minor mistakes in the original text can sometimes lead to quite disturbing mistranslations. For example, a non-martial (instead of non-marital) partnership was translated by DeepL into Nicht-Kriegsgesellschaft (i.e. non-war partnership).

Appropriate terminology: Some translations just don’t sound right or are not exactly to the point, like e.g. a person’s status which would be referred to as the Personenstand (civil or marital status) in German instead of simply saying status, which could be anything. A bailiff practice would be Gerichtsvollzieherbüro rather than Gerichtsvollzieherpraxis.

In the end, it always boils down to the same rules, which by the way apply to each and every minute of simultaneous interpreting (or looking up a word in any dictionary, even the most reliable one): Always look for the meaning of a text and constantly run plausibility checks.


About the author:
Anja Rütten is a freelance conference interpreter for German (A), Spanish (B), English (C) and French (C) based in Düsseldorf, Germany. She has specialised in knowledge management since the mid-1990s.


DeepL Sample Translations:

Original DE DeepL EN>DE Original EN DeepL DE>EN
20.12.2012    | DE | Amtsblatt der Europäischen Union | L 351/1 20.12.2012 | DE | Amtsblatt der Europäischen Union | L 351/1 20.12.2012    | EN | Official Journal of the European Union | L 351/1 20.12.2012 | EN | Official Journal of the European Union | L 351/1
VERORDNUNG (EU) Nr. 1215/2012 DES EUROPÄISCHEN PARLAMENTS UND DES RATES über die gerichtliche Zuständigkeit und die Anerkennung und Vollstreckung von Entscheidungen in Zivil- und Handelssachen VERORDNUNG (EU) Nr. 1215/2012 DES EUROPÄISCHEN PARLAMENTS UND DES RATES über die Zuständigkeit und die Anerkennung und Vollstreckung von Entscheidungen in Zivil- und Handelssachen REGULATION (EU) No 1215/2012 OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL  on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters REGULATION (EU) No 1215/2012 OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters
vom 12. Dezember 2012 vom 12. Dezember 2012 of 12 December 2012 of 12 December 2012
(Neufassung) (Neufassung) (recast) (recast)
Artikel 1 Artikel 1 Article 1 Article 1
(1)   Diese Verordnung ist in Zivil- und Handelssachen anzuwenden, ohne dass es auf die Art der Gerichtsbarkeit ankommt. Sie gilt insbesondere nicht für Steuer- und Zollsachen sowie verwaltungsrechtliche Angelegenheiten oder die Haftung des Staates für Handlungen oder Unterlassungen im Rahmen der Ausübung hoheitlicher Rechte (acta iure imperii). 1.   Diese Verordnung gilt in Zivil- und Handelssachen unabhängig von der Art des Gerichts. Sie erstreckt sich insbesondere nicht auf Steuer-, Zoll- oder Verwaltungsangelegenheiten oder die Haftung des Staates für Handlungen und Unterlassungen in Ausübung staatlicher Gewalt (acta iure imperii). 1.   This Regulation shall apply in civil and commercial matters whatever the nature of the court or tribunal. It shall not extend, in particular, to revenue, customs or administrative matters or to the liability of the State for acts and omissions in the exercise of State authority (acta iure imperii). 1. This Regulation shall apply in civil and commercial matters, whatever the nature of the court or tribunal. In particular, it shall not apply to tax, customs or administrative matters or to the liability of the State for acts or omissions in the exercise of State authority (acta iure imperii).
(2)   Sie ist nicht anzuwenden auf: 2.   Diese Verordnung gilt nicht für: 2.   This Regulation shall not apply to: (2) It shall not apply to:
a) | den Personenstand, die Rechts- und Handlungsfähigkeit sowie die gesetzliche Vertretung von natürlichen Personen, die ehelichen Güterstände oder Güterstände aufgrund von Verhältnissen, die nach dem auf diese Verhältnisse anzuwendenden Recht mit der Ehe vergleichbare Wirkungen entfalten, a) den Status oder die Rechtsfähigkeit natürlicher Personen, Vermögensrechte aus einer ehelichen Beziehung oder aus einer Beziehung, die nach dem auf diese Beziehung anwendbaren Recht vergleichbare Wirkungen wie die Ehe haben; (a) | the status or legal capacity of natural persons, rights in property arising out of a matrimonial relationship or out of a relationship deemed by the law applicable to such relationship to have comparable effects to marriage; a) | the marital status, legal capacity, capacity to act and legal representation of natural persons, matrimonial property regimes or matrimonial property regimes on the basis of relationships which, under the law applicable to such relationships, have comparable effects to marriage,
b) | Konkurse, Vergleiche und ähnliche Verfahren, b) Konkurs, Verfahren im Zusammenhang mit der Liquidation insolventer Unternehmen oder anderer juristischer Personen, gerichtliche Vereinbarungen, Vergleiche und ähnliche Verfahren; (b) | bankruptcy, proceedings relating to the winding-up of insolvent companies or other legal persons, judicial arrangements, compositions and analogous proceedings; (b) bankruptcies, settlements and similar proceedings,
c) | die soziale Sicherheit, (c) | Sozialversicherung; (c) | social security; c) Social security,
d) | die Schiedsgerichtsbarkeit, (d) | Schiedsverfahren; (d) | arbitration; (d) arbitration,
e) | Unterhaltspflichten, die auf einem Familien-, Verwandtschafts- oder eherechtlichen Verhältnis oder auf Schwägerschaft beruhen, (e) Unterhaltspflichten, die sich aus einer familiären Beziehung, Abstammung, Ehe oder Verwandtschaft ergeben; (e) | maintenance obligations arising from a family relationship, parentage, marriage or affinity; e) | Maintenance obligations based on a family, relationship or marriage law relationship or on affinity,
f) | das Gebiet des Testaments- und Erbrechts, einschließlich Unterhaltspflichten, die mit dem Tod entstehen. (f) Testamente und Erbfolge, einschließlich Unterhaltspflichten, die sich aus dem Tod ergeben. (f) | wills and succession, including maintenance obligations arising by reason of death. (f) the field of wills and succession, including maintenance obligations arising from death.
Artikel 2 Artikel 2 Article 2 Article 2
Für die Zwecke dieser Verordnung bezeichnet der Ausdruck Für die Zwecke dieser Verordnung: For the purposes of this Regulation: For the purposes of this Regulation, the following definitions shall apply
a) | „Entscheidung“ jede von einem Gericht eines Mitgliedstaats erlassene Entscheidung ohne Rücksicht auf ihre Bezeichnung wie Urteil, Beschluss, Zahlungsbefehl oder Vollstreckungsbescheid, einschließlich des Kostenfestsetzungsbeschlusses eines Gerichtsbediensteten. | Für die Zwecke von Kapitel III umfasst der Ausdruck „Entscheidung“ auch einstweilige Maßnahmen einschließlich Sicherungsmaßnahmen, die von einem nach dieser Verordnung in der Hauptsache zuständigen Gericht angeordnet wurden. Hierzu gehören keine einstweiligen Maßnahmen einschließlich Sicherungsmaßnahmen, die von einem solchen Gericht angeordnet wurden, ohne dass der Beklagte vorgeladen wurde, es sei denn, die Entscheidung, welche die Maßnahme enthält, wird ihm vor der Vollstreckung zugestellt; a) „Urteil“ ist jede von einem Gericht eines Mitgliedstaats ergangene Entscheidung, unabhängig von der Bezeichnung der Entscheidung, einschließlich eines Dekrets, einer Anordnung, einer Entscheidung oder eines Vollstreckungsbescheides, sowie eine Entscheidung über die Bestimmung der Kosten oder Ausgaben durch einen Beamten des Gerichts. | Für die Zwecke von Kapitel III umfasst das „Urteil“ vorläufige, einschließlich Schutzmaßnahmen, die von einem Gericht angeordnet werden, das nach dieser Verordnung in Bezug auf den Inhalt der Angelegenheit zuständig ist. Sie umfasst keine vorläufige, einschließlich schützende Maßnahme, die von einem solchen Gericht angeordnet wird, ohne dass der Beklagte vorgeladen wird, es sei denn, das die Maßnahme enthaltende Urteil wird dem Beklagten vor der Vollstreckung zugestellt; (a) | ‘judgment’ means any judgment given by a court or tribunal of a Member State, whatever the judgment may be called, including a decree, order, decision or writ of execution, as well as a decision on the determination of costs or expenses by an officer of the court. | For the purposes of Chapter III, ‘judgment’ includes provisional, including protective, measures ordered by a court or tribunal which by virtue of this Regulation has jurisdiction as to the substance of the matter. It does not include a provisional, including protective, measure which is ordered by such a court or tribunal without the defendant being summoned to appear, unless the judgment containing the measure is served on the defendant prior to enforcement; (a) ‚decision‘ means any decision given by a court or tribunal of a Member State, whatever the judgment may be called, such as a judgment, order, order for payment or enforcement order, including the determination of costs and expenses by an officer of the court. | For the purposes of Chapter III, the term „decision“ shall also include provisional, including protective, measures ordered by a court having jurisdiction as to the substance of the matter under this Regulation. Such measures shall not include provisional, including protective, measures ordered by such a court without the defendant having been summoned, unless the decision containing the measure is served on him before enforcement;
b) | „gerichtlicher Vergleich“ einen Vergleich, der von einem Gericht eines Mitgliedstaats gebilligt oder vor einem Gericht eines Mitgliedstaats im Laufe eines Verfahrens geschlossen worden ist; b) „Gerichtsvergleich“ ist ein Vergleich, der von einem Gericht eines Mitgliedstaats genehmigt oder im Laufe des Verfahrens vor einem Gericht eines Mitgliedstaats geschlossen wurde; (b) | ‘court settlement’ means a settlement which has been approved by a court of a Member State or concluded before a court of a Member State in the course of proceedings; (b) „court settlement“ means a settlement approved by a court of a Member State or concluded before a court of a Member State in the course of proceedings;
c) | „öffentliche Urkunde“ ein Schriftstück, das als öffentliche Urkunde im Ursprungsmitgliedstaat förmlich errichtet oder eingetragen worden ist und dessen Beweiskraft | i) | sich auf die Unterschrift und den Inhalt der öffentlichen Urkunde bezieht und | ii) | durch eine Behörde oder eine andere hierzu ermächtigte Stelle festgestellt worden ist; c) „öffentliche Urkunde“ ist ein Dokument, das im Ursprungsmitgliedstaat formell erstellt oder als öffentliche Urkunde eingetragen wurde und dessen Echtheit: (i) | bezieht sich auf die Unterschrift und den Inhalt des Instruments; und | (ii) | (ii) | wurde von einer Behörde oder einer anderen zu diesem Zweck befugten Behörde eingerichtet; (c) | ‘authentic instrument’ means a document which has been formally drawn up or registered as an authentic instrument in the Member State of origin and the authenticity of which: | (i) | relates to the signature and the content of the instrument; and | (ii) | has been established by a public authority or other authority empowered for that purpose; (c) „authentic instrument“ means a document which has been formally drawn up or registered as an authentic instrument in the Member State of origin and the probative value of which relates to the signature and the content of the authentic instrument and which has been established by an authority or other authority empowered to that effect;
d) | „Ursprungsmitgliedstaat“ den Mitgliedstaat, in dem die Entscheidung ergangen, der gerichtliche Vergleich gebilligt oder geschlossen oder die öffentliche Urkunde förmlich errichtet oder eingetragen worden ist; d) „Herkunftsmitgliedstaat“ ist der Mitgliedstaat, in dem gegebenenfalls die Entscheidung ergangen ist, der gerichtliche Vergleich genehmigt oder geschlossen wurde oder die öffentliche Urkunde formell ausgestellt oder eingetragen wurde; (d) | ‘Member State of origin’ means the Member State in which, as the case may be, the judgment has been given, the court settlement has been approved or concluded, or the authentic instrument has been formally drawn up or registered; (d) „Member State of origin“ means the Member State in which the judgment has been given, the court settlement approved or concluded, or the authentic instrument formally drawn up or registered;
e) | „ersuchter Mitgliedstaat“ den Mitgliedstaat, in dem die Anerkennung der Entscheidung geltend gemacht oder die Vollstreckung der Entscheidung, des gerichtlichen Vergleichs oder der öffentlichen Urkunde beantragt wird; e) „ersuchter Mitgliedstaat“ ist der Mitgliedstaat, in dem die Anerkennung der Entscheidung geltend gemacht wird oder in dem die Vollstreckung der Entscheidung, des Gerichtsverfahrens oder der öffentlichen Urkunde angestrebt wird; (e) | ‘Member State addressed’ means the Member State in which the recognition of the judgment is invoked or in which the enforcement of the judgment, the court settlement or the authentic instrument is sought; (e) „requested Member State“ means the Member State in which recognition of the judgment is sought or enforcement of the judgment, the court settlement or the authentic instrument is sought;
f) | „Ursprungsgericht“ das Gericht, das die Entscheidung erlassen hat, deren Anerkennung geltend gemacht oder deren Vollstreckung beantragt wird. f) „Ursprungsgericht“ ist das Gericht, das dem Urteil, dessen Anerkennung geltend gemacht oder dessen Vollstreckung angestrebt wird, zugestimmt hat. (f) | ‘court of origin’ means the court which has given the judgment the recognition of which is invoked or the enforcement of which is sought. (f) „court of origin“ means the court which delivered the judgment, the recognition of which is sought or the enforcement of which is sought.

Can computers outperform human interpreters?

Unlike many people in the translation industry, I like to imagine that one day computers will be able to interpret simultaneously between two languages just as well as or better than human interpreters do, what with artificial neuronal neurons and neural networks‘ pattern-based learning. After all, once hardware capacity allows for it, an artificial neural network will be able to hear and process many more instances of spoken languages and the underlying content than my tiny brain will in all its lifetime. So it may recognise and understand the weirdest accents and the most complicated matter just because of the sheer amount of information it has processed before and the vast ontologies it can rely on (And by that time, we will most probably not only be able to use digital interpreters, but also digital speakers).

The more relevant question by then might rather be if or when people will want to have digital interpretation (or digital speakers in the first place). How would I feel about being replaced by a machine interpreter, people often ask me over a cup of coffee during the break. Actually, the more I think about it, the more I realise that in some cases I would be happy to be replaced by a machine. And it is good old Friedemann Schulz von Thun I find particularly helpful when it comes to explaining when exactly I find that machine interpreters might outperform (out-communicate, so to say) us humans (or machine speakers outperform humans).

As Friedemann Schulz von Thun already put it back in 1981 in his four sides model (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four-sides_model), communication happens on four levels:

The matter layer contains statements which are matter of fact like data and facts, which are part of the news.

In the self-revealing or self-disclosure layer the speaker – conscious or not intended – tells something about himself, his motives, values, emotions etc.

In the relationship layer is expressed resp. received, how the sender gets along with the receiver and what he thinks of him.

The appeal layer contains the desire, advice, instruction and effects that the speaker is seeking for.

We both listen and speak on those four layers, be it on purpose or inadvertently. But what does that mean for interpretation?

In terms of technical subject matter, machine interpretation may well be superior to humans, whose knowledge base despite the best effort will always be based on a relatively small part of the world knowledge. Some highly technical conferences consist of long series of mon-directional speeches given just for the sake of it, at a neck-breaking pace and with no personal interaction whatsoever. When the original offers little „personal“ elements of communication (i.e. layer 2 to 4) in the first place, rendering a vivid and communicative interpretation into the target language can be beyond what human interpretation is able to provide. In these cases, publishing the manuscript or a video might serve the purpose just as well, even more so in the future with increasing acceptance of remote communication. And if a purely „mechanical“ translation is what is actually needed and no human element is required, machine interpreting might do the job just as well or even better. The same goes e.g. for discussions of logistics (“At what time are you arriving at the airport?”) or other practical arrangements.

But what about the three other, more personal and emotional layers? When speakers reveal something about themselves and listeners want to find out about the other person’s motives, emotions and values or about what one thinks of the other, and it is crucial to read the message between the lines, gestures and facial expressions? When the point of a meeting is to build trust and understanding and, consequently, create a relationship? Face to face meetings are held instead of phone calls or video conferences in order to facilitate personal connections and a collective experience to build upon in future cooperation (which then may work perfectly well via remote communication on more practical or factual subjects). There are also meetings where the most important function is the appeal. The intention of sales or incentive events generally is to have a positive effect on the audience, to motivate or inspire them.

Would these three layers of communication, which very much involve the human nature of both speakers and listeners, work better with a human or a machine interpreter in between? Is a human interpreter better suited to read and convey personality and feelings, and will human interaction between persons work better with a human intermediary, i.e. a person? Customers might find an un-human interpreter more convenient, as the interpreter’s personality does not interfere with the personal relation of speaker and listener (but obviously not provide any facilitation either). This “neutral” interpreting solution could be all the more charming if it didn’t happen orally, but translation was provided in writing, just like subtitles. This would allow the voice of the original speaker to set the tone. However, when it comes to the „unspoken“ messages, the added value of interpreters is in their name: They interpret what is being said and constantly ask the question „What does the speaker mean or want?“ Mood, mocking, irony, reference to the current situation or persons present etc. will most probably not be understood (or translated) by machines for a long time, or never at all. But I would rather leave it to philosophers or sci-fi people to answer this question.

About the author:
Anja Rütten is a freelance conference interpreter for German (A), Spanish (B), English (C) and French (C) based in Düsseldorf, Germany. She has specialised in knowledge management since the mid-1990s.