The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President:
Thanks to the historic economic expansion you have presided over in your years in office, there has never been a better time to be a translator or an interpreter. The market for language services is booming and the number of translators and interpreters is increasing every day. Membership in our professional association, the American Translators Association, has doubled since 1992—to over 7000 members.
After listening to your State of the Union address on Thursday, our members have asked me respectfully to point out to you that while technology has produced many marvels, machines that "translate as fast as you can speak" are still a long way off. As you know from your work with interpreters in high-level meetings and negotiations, it takes experience, knowledge, native ability and training to interpret foreign languages correctly. Despite the increasing compactness and cleverness of all the computing devices now on the market, human speech remains something that can be interpreted correctly only by human beings.
Machines to translate speech instantaneously have been predicted for over fifty years, and yet the need for human translators and interpreters is at an all-time high. Nothing can replace the truly accurate, nuanced job that a trained human translator produces, and yet, the American public is largely unaware of this fact. Our work is an essential part of the success of American society. The American public needs to know what a tricky, challenging and high-level task every translator and interpreter engages in when he or she sets to work. Please speak to this reality. Please don't build false hopes by talking of machines that are still, unfortunately, in the realm of fantasy-land—where they will remain for the indefinite future.
Ann G. Macfarlane
Dear fellow ATA members:
Here is the reply we have received to my letter to President Clinton about his comments in the "State of the Union" speech. While he does not address the substantive issue of machine translation, I appreciate his good words about translators and interpreters. I hope that you are pleased also with this recognition from the White House.
Ann G. Macfarlane