09 October 2018
machine translation

Table of contents

Who hasn’t heard of them? Google Translate, Skype Translator, Microsoft’s Bing Translator and most recently DeepL, the deep learning machine translator, are on everyone’s lips in the world of translation: in just a few clicks and a couple of seconds, you have an online translation in front of you.

It goes without saying that this is valuable for personal use but is machine translation worthwhile for your company? Find out here.

The benefits of machine translation

Machine translation services provide good assistance for private use. They help with comprehension or support you to actively communicate in a foreign language.

The benefits are clear to see. As long as you have access to the internet, you can retrieve translations in any conceivable language within a couple of seconds, without paying a penny. Time and cost are important factors when translating large volumes of data in particular.

The limits of machine translation tools

Here comes the but... The quality of the translation varies drastically depending on the source text you would like to have translated. It all depends on the machine translation tool you use. Some manage single words and simple short sentences without a problem whereas others are better at dealing with longer sentences and full paragraphs. But every sentence is important for a good translation.

The source language and desired target language also play an important role. Translating into a target language related to the source language works much better than translating into a language with a different syntax. Therefore, a translation from Spanish to Italian will work better than a translation from Chinese to Italian. Some tools, like DeepL for example, work well with European languages but do not (currently) offer other languages.

There are two further aspects that you should be aware of. There is a limit to the number of characters you can translate with a free machine translation tool and MT systems are normally cloud based — meaning documents and data are saved on the service provider’s server. The machine translation service will learn from your company’s texts and continue to use them. For this reason, free tools are an absolute no-go for sensitive data that you wish to protect.

Should you need a vague understanding of a text in a foreign language for internal distribution, for example, then machine translation services are a great help in many situations.

Should your company, however, require a translation in a foreign language for external use, you ought to be aware of the limits of machine translation tools. A human editor can just correct the text after the fact, you may say. However this kind of process is not yet cost effective at the moment. Instead, put your trust in a human translator when working in a professional field. Why?

Company communication is a cornerstone

It’s simple. Everything that you as a company communicate to the public has an effect on your company’s image. If your texts are full of mistakes, this will have a negative effect on the external view of your company and will reduce how professional and competent your company appears. This makes a machine translation a problematic decision for internationalising your company and its products.

And as good as a machine translation service is, a human translator is superior in many aspects.

What does a human translator do better than a machine?

When compared to machine translators, which can only deliver a literal, word-for-word translation of the source text, a human translator can do much more.

A human translator...

...doesn’t just select the first word that comes along, instead they choose the word that works best in context.
...translates texts in a linguistically correct manner regardless of how difficult the sentence structure in the source text is.
...creates texts that aren’t just linguistically correct but are also perfectly aimed at your target audience and match the tone and style of the source text. Because that’s what human translators do best. Let’s be honest. How should a machine know the most appropriate way to address the reader in certain situations?
...takes the cultural context of your target audience into account.
...understands relationships and references and reads between the lines.
...recognises puns and recreates them in the target language — perhaps not in the same words but with similar imagery.
...transmits the effect of a text into the foreign language.

The value of a human translator: the best solution in the middle ground

To achieve all of the above, a human translator has earned the proper qualifications. Their work, therefore, cannot be unpaid, nor can it be done in a few seconds. Plan enough time for the internationalisation of your company and don’t save money in the wrong places.

The best solution is often in the middle ground: a combination of man and machine. Translators working at the translation agency intercontact use computer-aided translation tools. They provide their own translations but have access to CAT tools, which enable the creation of customer-specific translation memories and subject-specific termbases, which can be used during a translation.

Translations from intercontact are for people by people but we do still work with the latest technologies. Because machine translation is an aid and not an alternative to professional human translators.

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