1. Assessing the effectiveness of new interpreting technologies in comparison with professional interpreters

Project duration:

3-4 Weeks commencing 13 July, 2020

Each student: 36 hours/week



As professional interpreters and translators, we have seen an increasing number of new technologies that may assist with our work and/or challenge the existence of our profession. These often over-advertised technologies include Google Translate, iFlytech [科大讯飞, an Artificial Intelligence-based interpreting device] and many more interpreting and translation gadgets that cater to numerous languages. Many lay people misperceive that these seemingly powerful tools may be used for not only simple everyday conversations with others who speak a different language (e.g., overseas travelling) but also complex interactions with professionals at formal settings (e.g., medical appointments in a foreign country). Should professional interpreters, translators, and trainees embrace these new translation and interpreting technologies or take them with a pinch of salt? Some professional interpreters and translators, due to a lack of knowledge about the actual effectiveness of these technologies, also worry about themselves being superseded by these electronic devices in the near future. Empirical evidence therefore is urgently needed to inform our debates, decisions, choices, and professional practice.

Research aim

This empirical study compares both dialogue interpretations and consecutive interpretations produced by some new interpreting tools (e.g. iFlytech interpreting device) and by some NAATI Certified Interpreters (Mandarin/English) in terms of the accuracy of target language renditions, in order to assess the efficacy of these interpreting technologies.

Importance of this research project

Little research has been conducted to test the efficacy of these highly-publicised interpreting tools that are somewhat ‘disruptive’ to translation and interpreting industries in many countries. Hence, it is necessary to evaluate how well these tools and professional interpreters perform when rendering source language information into target language, and how well they cope with various factors – accents, varying difficulty levels of source language content, and speed of talking – in complex cross-cultural communication. 


Both the professional Mandarin/English interpreters and the selected interpreting technologies will engage in dialogue interpreting and consecutive interpreting tasks.

First, the researcher will create videos that show English-speaking clients and Mandarin-speaking clients talking in their respective native language, with each speech segment followed by pre-inserted silence.

For example, a video can be a conversation between an English-speaking police officer and a Mandarin-speaking suspect, each talking in their native language. The aforementioned interpreting tools and human interpreters will interpret the speech segments in the videos from source language into target language, thus enabling a real conversation between the primary speakers through interpretation. Participants are 10 NAATI Certified Interpreters (Mandarin/English). All the interpreting technologies’ and human interpreters’ dialogue interpretations will be video-recorded and transcribed for later analysis. The data analysis will mainly focus on the accuracy of information transfer from the source language to the target language. Other areas for data analysis include (i) the primary interlocutors’ preference between the human interpreters and the interpreting gadgets and (ii) their perceived communicative effect of the interpreted interactions.

Second, the researcher will create a source language video of an English speaker giving a short formal speech, which will be interpreted by both the human interpreters and the interpreting devices into Mandarin. Data analysis will focus on accuracy, grammaticality, register, and fluency of the target language interpretations.

Expected outcomes and deliverables:

Students who participate in this Winter Research Project will have hands-on experience with conducting empirical research and thus gain skills in the following areas:

i.              Transcribing and analysing Mandarin/English dialogue interpretation data and consecutive interpretation data,

ii.             Improving literature review skills by drafting a literature on machine-assisted interpreting work,

iii.            Learning how to analyse interpretation data and preparing to write academic journal articles,

iv.           Developing interest in pursuing further research in interpreting and translation.

Moreover, at the end of the winter research program, students will be given an opportunity to give a short presentation to share their views on what they’ve learned from each other and from the supervisor within this research project.

Suitable for:

This project is open to applications from students with a background in Chinese/English interpreting and translation, current students in the MACTI (Master of Arts in Chinese Translation and Interpreting) program who have completed at least one semester of training, UQ enrolled students only.

Number of participants required: 1

Further info: 

Please contact Dr Jihong (Lily) WANG via email