Machine Translation vs. Human Translation

Can software replace a native speaker?

As you have no doubt heard, the last few years of software development have yielded significant advancements in machine translation, and dramatic improvements continue to occur. Companies such as Google, Bing and Amazon have all been refining their algorithms to make automated translation a viable option for some business applications.

So, how do you know which translation method to choose, given your specific business requirements? To help clarify the issue, here are few pros and cons of both human and machine translations.

The Machine Translation Option

  • The pros:
    • Usually less expensive
    • Can translate large volumes of content quickly
  • The cons:
    • Less accurate across different languages
    • Less effective for technical or creative content
    • Cannot pick up cultural nuances
    • Cannot decipher context, resulting in poor word choices and literal translations
    • Machines don’t recognize words specifically chosen for their brand power
    • Hidden costs due to having to review and revise the translations

The Human Translation Option

  • The pros:
    • Removes most of the negatives of using machine translation
    • Native speakers can identify and translate cultural nuances
    • Human translations can convey the brand’s intended tone and voice
    • Captures the creativity in your content
    • Can incorporate SEO keywords
  • The cons:
    • Typically more expensive than machine translation, although continuous process improvements are helping to decrease costs

The Hybrid Option

  • In some cases, combining machine and human translations can create the perfect balance for your company, with an initial machine translation cross-checked by a human for accuracy and authenticity. While there has been exciting progress in machine translation technology over the last couple of years, it remains in the early stages. If you’re passionate about your message being interpreted correctly across multiple languages, it still pays to inject the human element into your translations.

In deciding which approach to take, it is important to carefully consider your requirements in terms of brand consistency, overall tone, speed, quality and cost. In general, machine translation works better for product pages or specific sections where 100% accuracy is not vital. Human translation serves well for high-traffic pages and translations across multiple languages, where content, messaging and context are crucial. We’re always happy to discuss with you the best option for your next project.

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