BlogBusinessHuman Translation vs. Machine Translation

Human Translation vs. Machine Translation

Machine translation (MT) tools like Google Translate, Bing Translator, Yandex Translate, and even our own LEXIGO.EMT (Enterprise Machine Translation) are well and truly established ,  and making their way into digital content workflows, customer service apps such as online chats and CRM and many more — but when is it suitable to use a machine translation tool as opposed to a professional human translation?

Key Takeaways

  • ​Google Translate is great for getting an understanding of content or; for informal communication and content such as emails with suppliers.
  • ​Human Translation takes in to account context, nature of content, cultural nuances, target audiences, literacy levels and more.
  • It doesn’t need to be a battle of human translation vs. machine translation, the case for a hybrid approach is stronger than ever.

Despite the title of this article, the human translation debate of man versus machine has changed a lot over the years due to advancements in artificial intelligence, only a relatively short time since the introduction of machine translations.

We’ll dive deeper into this subject later in the article.

Today, the conversation is more about human and machine while professional native translators and translation agencies find their way around competing translation tools; or like LEXIGO, build their own and integrate an array of machine translation software.

To start, let’s take a look at the disadvantages and advantages of both solutions by understanding how everything really works.

Machine Translation Services offered by professional providers like LEXIGO are built and operated purely for clients; this should arguably provide more accurate, specific, and tailored results than free tools.

This adds another dimension to the long-standing debate and the battle between machine translation engines — for simplicity, let’s compare Google Translate with Human Translation.

How does machine translation, like Google’s, work?

Gone are the days of statistical machine translation for Google, in recent years, Google Translate moved their model to something called Neural Machine Translation, which learns from loads of data over time, attempts to find patterns and continually improves (through machine learning) to offer you the best combination of translation in available language pairs.

Advantages

  • It’s free: Google Translate offers its services at no cost, to a certain extent or at much lower costs than professional human translators. That’s a business advantage everyone can appreciate. Still, there is a minimal cost if you’re using Google Translate through an API.
  • It’s instant & online: Google Translate is conveniently available online for cross-platform use. Translations are instantaneous and for immediate use.
  • Get the gist: 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 quickly determine a site’s subject or the primary points of an email.
  • Multiple languages: Google Translate is available in many languages already, with more on the way.

Disadvantages

  • It’s limited: You can’t get everything translated with the service. And you won’t get a comprehensive translation of the text, either.
  • Only some languages are offered: While Google’s translation gives plenty of languages, there are almost 7000 languages worldwide, and at least 171 of those are important business languages.
  • It won’t give natural, fluent translation: Google Translate offers a mechanical and direct translation of words. You won’t get a text that reads naturally across those languages. However, the neural foundation of its technology aims to solve this problem.
  • Context is not part of the equation: Google Translate won’t know the context of your content. For example, who is your target audience, and what are their ages, education level and cultural sensitivities? In addition, what is the content being used for? E.g. for a speech, marketing copy, website, white paper, instructional content or something else? What is your brand’s voice, and what terms does your brand prefer to use (e.g. automobile vs. car)?
  • It’s only a machine, after all: Translating keywords for SEO and SEM or translating a brand name requires lots of research, study and further localization — all things machine translation can’t take into account.

Advantages of machine translation: what’s Google Translate good for?

Google Translate and other machine translators are suitable for all of the following purposes:

  • Determining a document’s native language: Google can automatically detect a language, so you don’t have to spend time figuring out its native tongue or by going to professional translators.
  • Understanding the primary points of a website or section of text: 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 need to transmit something quickly.
  • Informal or casual communication: The service makes it easy to get a message to or from different languages quickly. This quick and straightforward translation is excellent for informal or casual correspondence. Conversely, anything official within a company would risk miscommunication or other related issues.
  • Nothing official: Related to the above points, Google Translate should never be the chosen method to communicate anything official within company business. It’s great for casual and informal messaging — especially if the receiving party already knows you’re using it. That way, any unintentional errors are forgiven.
  • Large amounts of content: when you’re faced with a large amount of content and require content discovery before deciding to bring in the expertise of the human translator, machine translation is the perfect solution to getting an entire website, as an example, translated fast.
  • High-volume, low-value content: machine translation is excellent for high-volume, low-value content when it needs to be translated in the shortest turnaround time possible. Think internal communication, memos and large amounts of data.

How professional translation works

Limitations in automated translation services showcase the need for active professionals to conduct your translation work. Personally, I am very excited about where machine translation is headed and don’t believe it will have to be an epic battle between human and machine in the future.

The productivity gains, time savings and extra earning capacity for translators working with machine translated raw output will far outweigh the threat of machine translation taking over.

At LEXIGO, our approach combines both, and take the view of human and machine rather than human versus machine — this is why technology plays a significant factor in our human translation process.

Machines are excellent at remembering things humans don’t need to or don’t have the capacity to. For example, how can a translator remember every brand term, hundreds if not thousands of glossaries, terms and styles they need to apply to specific clients? They also can’t quickly scan thousands of words and find repeated content or previously translated content.

In such cases, CAT tools can also be used to help reduce the translation cost and improve the quality of the translations. CAT tools are computer-assisted translation tools that help translators to translate large amounts of content and to ensure consistency across entire content pieces.

This ultimate combination of human and machine makes for high quality translation results suitable for:

  • Any official communication: Letters, Messages, Emails, Etc. When your company name is on correspondence in an official capacity, you need it translated by a professional. Machine translation alone could inadvertently make your company look silly, convey a vital 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.
  • Localizing marketing materials: Language doesn’t always reduce to the nuts-and-bolts provided by Google Translate. In most cases, context is crucial. Localizing text to specific cultures, communities or languages cannot be done with current automated technology; this is precisely an area where a professional human translator will provide the best results.
  • Corporate and other market-facing content: Market-facing content already looks and reads great in your native language. Shouldn’t it look and read in the same effective way no matter what language it’s in?
  • Multi-language services: In many corporate marketing or communications, multiple languages are an element of your campaigns. Each language will carry specific requirements for conveying your brand — and message — without losing anything in translation.

Back to the battle of man versus machine

The battle of human vs machine translation has been ongoing for some time, with each side having its own strengths and weaknesses. While machine translations can handle high volume content, it almost certainly will not always capture the cultural nuances and idiomatic phrases that native speakers possess.

On the other hand, human translators, especially those who are native speakers, can provide accurate translations but may not be able to handle large amounts of content as quickly or at a lower cost as machine translators.

The main benefit of human translation is the ability to capture the cultural nuances and idiomatic phrases that are important for the target audience.

The main benefit of machine translation is the ability to handle high volume and new languages quickly and at a lower cost.

What’s the best approach?

The best approach is to use the strengths of both. In the case of human translation, it is important to have a professional human translator who is a native speaker of the target language. In the case of machine translation, it is important to use machine translation engines that are specialized in the language pair and to ensure that the machine translations are reviewed by a human linguist.

However, once you understand machine translation’s benefits and limitations, you can better determine your own specific translation and localization (or localization!) needs and when you might opt for a professional translation service.

At LEXIGO, we offer all service levels, from machine to human and everything in-between. At the end of the day, it all depends on what you need the translation for.

There is a time and a place for Google Translate, which features world-class artificial neural networks. In the same breath, there’s also a time and a place for more thorough human translation services.

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