Machine translations or human translators?

Many companies try to save money by cutting corners. Replacing a human translator with an online machine translation tool like Google Translate is one of their options. So they may use online machine translation software to translate their business correspondence, websites, eBay and Amazon listings

Only when they discover that all is not well, do they send the translation to a professional translator. They ask them to “revise it quickly”, believing that this will be cheaper than employing a human translator in the first place.

Which uses do online machine translations have?computer code photo representing online translations

There is nothing wrong with Google Translate per se. It, and others like it, is a very good basic free online translation service. Translation software like this is ideal for “just wanting to know what it says”. It is perfect for personal correspondence, for writing to a friend or relative in another country and for making appointments with colleagues in other parts of the world. As long as both parties know that they do not speak each other’s languages and perfection is not required.

Which uses are machine translations not suitable for?

Instant online translations – provided by translation software only – are not suitable for anything a company wants to publish in print or online. It is essential that a professional human translator works on texts that matter, as should any formal business correspondence. Especially when a company needs to show that they are professional, competent and trustworthy, machine translations cannot compete with qualified human translators.

The reason is that these instant online translation programs have access to basic dictionaries only. These dictionaries use common algorithms to work out which word you might mean. When either the source language or the target language have the same spelling for two different words they face many translations options. Yet they have no way of knowing the correct choice for the context for words such as arms or bat or grave. It takes a human translator to know the precise meaning of a word in a specific context and to translate accordingly.

Furthermore, online software programs are by no means advanced enough to know every possible specialist industry and its terminology. Are bridges held up by pillars or columns in the target language? By abutments or struts or piers or stilts?

A dictionary will offer all those options for the German word “Pfeiler”. Only a qualified human translator will know which one to choose. A potential client reading that a company builds bridges on “stilts” will wonder whether they really are the best business partner for them.

Human translators editing machine translations

Something else software programs struggle with is good writing style and sentence structure. It’s easy to test this by putting a complex sentence into Google Translate. Then ask Google to translate it into a foreign language and after that back into English.

This, invariably, results in garbled sentences. Dealing with such nonsensical sentences is what makes editing machines translated documents so very time-consuming. In addition, human translators must identify and correct any incorrectly translated words. What is more, they often have to rewrite complete sentences and correct the grammar. Last but not least, they may need to change other sentences in the text to ensure consistency throughout the document.

The result will still be an inelegant translation. Furthermore, producing this corrected translation probably needed more time than had a human translator done the work from the start. Consequently, the translator has to charge more for what will result in work of a lower quality. Had they not been forced to wrestle with machine translated sentences, they would probably have produced a better translation.

Online machine translation programs are great – they have their place. But there are many occasions when it is good business practice to look for a professional human translator instead.

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