Recent criticism of the Department of Defence’s nonsensical Arabic tweets about fighting IS propaganda shows the potential for getting it wrong with machine translation. The importance of correctly translating international communication begs the question, how exactly does machine translation work?
But when is it suitable to use machine translation as opposed to professional human translation? To answer this question, we need to look at the disadvantages and advantages of both solutions by understanding how everything really works.
How machine translation tools like Google Translate work
There are many advantages to using today’s approach to machine translation. Google Translate offers its services at no cost – up until a certain limit. That’s a business advantage everyone can appreciate but as mentioned earlier, there is a minimal cost if you’ll be using Google Translate through an API. Google Translate is conveniently available online for cross-platform use. Translations are instantaneous and for immediate use. The service simplifies machine translation no matter what you need. This includes, web pages, emails, documents and more. Google Translate is available in a large number of languages already, with more on the way.
However it’s not without disadvantages. As it is limited, you can’t get everything translated with the service. And you won’t get a comprehensive translation of the text, either. Not every language is offered: while Google’s translation gives plenty of languages, what if your required language isn’t on the list?
Moreover, context is not part of the equation. Google Translate won’t know the context of your content. For example, who is your target audience, what are their ages, education level and cultural sensitivities? In addition, what is the content being used for? For example, is it for a speech, marketing copy, website, white paper, instructional content or something else?
It’s only a machine after all. Translating keywords for search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) or translating a brand name requires lots of research, study and further localisation – all things machine translation can’t take in to account. Google features world-class translation algorithms which offer the best automated translation available on the market today. However, it’s important that you understand how and where the line is drawn in these services for your specific company needs.
There is a time and a place for Google Translate. In the same breath, there’s also a time and a place for more thorough human translation services. You need to understand the benefits and limitations Google Translate provides in order to determine your own specific translation and localisation needs.
Google translate suitability
Google Translate is suitable for a number of purposes. Google can automatically detect a language, so you don’t have to spend time figuring out its native tongue. It can understand the primary points of a website or section of text. This means you can use the translation service to get a vague understanding of what a webpage or other correspondence entails. Similarly, you can translate your message into a different language if you simply need to transmit something quickly. Google translate can also be used for informal or casual communication. The service makes it easy to quickly get a message to or from different languages. This type of quick and simple translation is great for informal or casual correspondence. Anything official within a company would risk miscommunication or other related issues.
Google Translate is only appropriate for unofficial purposes – it should never be the chosen method to communicate anything official. It’s great for casual and informal messaging – especially if the receiving party already knows you’re using it. That way any unintentional errors won’t be a problem.
When you need professional translation services
If you’ve ever used Google Translate, you probably have quickly determined its limitations. It’s good at getting the “gist” of something so you can understand the basics. You could easily determine what a site’s subject is about, or the primary points of an email.
Limitations in automated translation services showcase the need for active professionals to conduct your translation work. Professionals are necessary for when your company name is on correspondence in an official capacity. Google Translate could inadvertently make your company look silly, convey an important point inaccurately or miss critical aspects of your message. Why would you want to risk this with anything official? It’s your name and reputation at stake, after all.
Professional translation is also needed for localising marketing materials. Language doesn’t always reduce to the nuts-and-bolts provided by Google Translate. In most cases, context is extremely important. Localising text to specific cultures or languages simply cannot be done with current automated technology. This is precisely an area where a professional human translator will provide the best results.
Moreover, for corporate and other market-facing content professional translators should be used. Market-facing content already looks and reads good in your native language. Shouldn’t it look and read in the same effective way no matter what language it is in? Professional translation options bring together human translators who understand how these specific languages work. They can take your message and convey it in the same effective method – ensuring consistency in message and style across multiple language barriers. In many corporate marketing or communications, multiple languages are an element of campaigns. Each language will carry specific requirements in terms of conveying the brand – and message – without losing anything in the translation. Choosing a specialty translation firm allows a consistent message across multiple language barriers.
Google Translate is really great at exactly what it is designed to do: provide direct, machine text-to-text conversions. It’s important to know when the human touch is needed.
Mark Saba is the founder and CEO of Lexigo.
This article can be republished with the attribution under a Creative Commons Licence.