Human Translation vs. Machine Translation: Which is most efficient for Market Research?

Market research often results in massive datasets and volumes of content generated through consumer feedback. Surveys can collect information from thousands of respondents and feature lengthy answers to open-ended questions. Focus groups, meanwhile, facilitate discussion and unstructured feedback that is used to evaluate consumer sentiments guiding product releases, marketing, and other strategic decision-making.

When this research is conducted in a foreign market, researchers must decide how to translate feedback into their native language. Although human translation and machine translation are both used in various market research scenarios, many businesses prefer the convenience and cost-effectiveness of machine translation to translate this feedback.

If you’re trying to decide how to approach translation for your own corporate market research, here’s an overview of the benefits of machine translation—as well as examples where more intensive human translation services may be advisable.

Machine translation quickly processes massive amounts of content

One key benefit of machine translation is speed. Human translations are time-intensive, and project completion timelines are subject to translator availability. Machine translation is an automated process that can be scaled to handle massive projects involving feedback from tens of thousands of respondents. 

The larger your market research project is, the longer a human translation of that content will take. But machine translation can handle a project of any size with minimal processing time, allowing you to quickly access and apply data toward guiding strategic decisions. This can make machine translation an attractive option when your intent is to capture the general sentiment of long answers to open-ended questions.

Costs are reduced

Translation costs always factor into any decision between machine and human translation. The very elements of machine translation that make it fast and efficient for businesses—automation and scalability, for example—also make it much more cost-effective. Paying for a software-driven service saves you the labor costs of hiring qualified translation experts to manage precise, high-quality translations.

However, machine translation is not without its drawbacks. Quality, nuance, and context may be lost upon automated translation solutions. Many are fine with this tradeoff, preferring a cheap, “quick and dirty” translation for market research content, rather than the professional, polished, and far more time-intensive services of human translation. 

Given that machine-translated materials often aren’t customer-facing—market research is used for internal research, analysis, and decision-making—the importance of literal, accurate translations isn’t always as high. Consequently, businesses typically want to keep their investment into translation low, affording a finished product that may not be professional-grade, but is serviceable enough to help researchers and marketers do their jobs.

Overall sentiment is preserved

In many cases, surveys and focus groups are seeking broad feedback and sentiments that are effectively captured through machine translation. 

If you’re a movie production company trying to gather research on how your feature film will be received in foreign markets, for example, machine translation can help gauge the general sentiments of your local audience. This includes whether they enjoyed the movie and whether it might appeal to a broader base. Sentiment analysis of translated market research can also help you guide your marketing for that movie, such as emphasizing a particular character or storyline that proves most engaging to a specific foreign market.

The value of these machine-driven insights often provide a better ROI than what you would get from human translation. When you’re analyzing hundreds or thousands of pieces of feedback, it’s actually even easier to analyze overall sentiments and trends through machine translations. The volume of data analyzed expands your sample size and gives you more reliable data to inform strategic decision-making.

Limitations of machine translation

Most businesses will find that machine translation of open-ended responses is perfectly suited to their market research needs. However, there are instances where machine translation may not offer the precision required by a business.

Medical market research is a perfect example. Given the high stakes of ensuring medical data is properly translated and understood, especially when it comes to physician responses and other consumer feedback, human translation is sometimes necessary to ensure healthcare companies have the most accurate information possible. In other cases, such as market research involving a limited number of participants, a business may deem the total cost of human translation worth the added precision and accuracy.

While machine translation is excellent for providing a quick translation of many Western languages, automated translation tools aren’t as reliable with certain languages, including many Asian languages. This can make machine translations impractical for some foreign markets.

Keep in mind that machine translation also has limitations when it comes to translating subtleties in communication, such as humor or sarcasm. The same goes for a highly-specialized subject matter where a lot of custom keywords and phrases are used in a very specific context, such as legal matters—in these cases, human translators may be required to either handle translations entirely or to proof-read machine translations and manage both costs and quality through a hybrid approach.

Whether you need machine translation services or the precision of human translation, find a language service provider to guide you through this process. Contact Protranslating today to learn more.


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