Information technology and translation tools are frequent topic on this blog. We often write about our experiences with information technology, but seldom do we write about the knowledge required to use this information.

The difference between knowledge and information is not as subtle as it seems. Today it would seem that you can learn how to perform any task simply by watching a video or reading a short set of instructions on-line. The number of sites proposing you take matters into your own hands is practically endless, as is the number of sites showing the hilariously disastrous results of DIY.

But the results of DIY can be deadly, and that’s not so funny anymore. I remember picking up a book on mycology from my local library when I was 16 years old, and going out into the woods to scavenge for edible mushrooms. While I was rooting around pine needles and maple stumps, the book under my arm, a man with a thick Russian accent called out to me sternly, “Hey! What do you do there!?” “I am collecting mushrooms,” I replied, “is there a problem?” “You listen to me very well. If you eat mushroom you see in book, you will die. Only if I show you mushroom will you know that it is safe for eating.” He was holding a basket full of amazing button mushrooms, chanterelles, and morels, which -I soon found out- I could never have distinguished from some of the most poisonous fungi in existence.

Luckily, I am still alive.

You may be tempted to take your document and run it through an online translation engine, fix it up using an online encyclopedia or dictionary, but sometimes, and depending on several factors, the results may be disastrous. If you don’t believe me, be my guest! Go to your favorite online translation engine, translate a simple phrase from English to say, Chinese, translate it back to English and watch hilarity ensue. The translation may be excellent but for two or three key word that completely changes the meaning of the text. There are many sites dedicated to documenting the funniest and the gravest of these mistranslations.

Learning to translate takes years of study and practice. Even writing properly in one’s own language requires training well beyond the fifth grade. There is sadly no shortcut we can take to translate documents accurately. Just like your heart surgery, or your plumbing, your plane flying or your mushroom gathering, highly accurate, professional translation (and professional post editing of machine translation) is something better left to the experts.