Machine Translation, such as with Google Translate, is a valuable resource for multilingual scholarship and, when used appropriately, can supplement a researcher’s knowledge of a language for successful integration of multilingual sources in research. I have also collaborated on this topic with Dr. Lane Schwartz, and we have offered a workshop designed to show researchers how to use technology to access languages that are unfamiliar to them. One idea we are exploring the idea that an expert in a particular domain can successfully access material in a language with which they have no (or limited) familiarity.
For my own research I frequently consult multilingual sources. I have studied 20 languages to some degree of familiarity at the university level. But for these, and for those that I am not yet familiar with, Machine Translation can supplement my knowledge and allow me to include information from more sources. Of course when I’m not certain of a translation myself I will still contact a speaker of the language, but I am able to do a lot of work independently this way. At the moment the bibliography for my dissertation cites sources written in over 30 languages, which is especially relevant for historical research before English was used so widely in academia but is still relevant today in some areas as well.
For more information, see:
Ross, Daniel. Using Machine Translation to Enable Highly Multilingual Scholarship. Presented at MTMA 2015: the First Machine Translation Marathon in the Americas, held at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, May 13th, 2015.