Machine Translation vs Professional Translation: Which is Better?

 by anthony on  |
3 Comment(s)
A lot of the questions we get asked are about the quality of our translations and the best type for each website. Beyond doubt, a professional translation is the most effective and will always give you the best quality translation. That said, many people don't know the difference between machine and professional translations. Below we examine both types and the best situations to use each of them

Machine Translation
This is an automated translation that’s carried out by a machine, with zero human input. Machine is the fastest way to translate a website but rarely yields the best outcome. 

When should I use machine translation?

1. Translating in bulk
Machine translation is ideal when you’ve got a large amount of content that requires fast translation, but doesn’t need anything more than a general meaning. Examples on your website could include glossary pages or generic information pages.

2. For internal resources
If the content you want to translate is an internal resource, then a machine translation would work. Again, this will depend on whether the content needs 100% accuracy, or is acceptable with some rough edges. As a rule of thumb, if the content will be seen by your customers, then you shouldn't machine translate it.

3. As a first draft
Like bulk translating, machines are also good for partial translation of large amounts of content that a professional translator can improve on later. This could be used as a first draft and give the professional an easier piece of content to tidy up later.

Advantages of machine translation

1. It's fast
Machine is the fastest translation type available and can be instant in most cases. This is because it’s a literal word-for-word translation and doesn’t take any other time-heavy factors into account. Contrast this to a professional translation, which can take quite some time if you’ve got a sizeable website. (On a side note: Localizer’s professional translation only takes two days max.!)

2. It's free
The free nature of machine translation represents the biggest attraction for businesses with limited budgets. There is a myriad of free machine translation software available online, with Google Translate is the most popular one. But through research, you can find many other free alternatives.

3. Constantly improving
While still far from perfect, machine translation is constantly improving. With advances in technology, it is inevitable that machine translation follows suit and advances with it. One of these advances is 
neural machine translation, where a large neural network is used to maximize translation performance. 

Disadvantages of machine translation

1. Low accuracy
Machine translations have poor accuracy as regards sentence construction and using correct words and meanings. Specific and technical terms are also difficult to translate. Often, machine translation looks more like source text than an actual sentence.

2. No context or tone of voice
Due to their literal, word-for-word nature, machines don’t have the ability to add context or tone of voice to translations. Words have no meaning to a machine and they can’t differentiate the important from the unimportant. The end result resembles a robotic block of text that makes some sense but was written by someone with no understanding of the subject matter.

3. Mistakes can be costly
Using machine translations on all your content can be costly and not just in a monetary sense. Things like online legal documents or instruction manuals need to be 100% accurate. Mistakes here can cost huge sums of money or cause lasting damage to your company’s reputation.

4. Inconsistency across languages
As mentioned above, machine translations are always improving as technology gets better. But these aren’t blanket improvements and a decent machine translation to one language may not be the case for another. Testing will show the quality of translation for one language but is no indication of how well other languages will translate.

Professional Translation
As the name suggests, a professional translation is any translation carried out by a qualified professional translator. A professional translation gives the best possible translation outcome and represents the highest quality translation available. 

When should I use professional translation?

1. For accuracy
Any content that requires high levels of accuracy should be professionally translated. This includes things like online legal documents or anything else that shouldn't be misinterpreted. With this type of content, it's always better to invest in a professional translation rather than risk catastrophic errors through using a machine. 

2. For consumer audiences
Bearing in mind that whatever you put out to a consumer audience will represent your company image, it’s advisable to use a professional translation on any content that your customer will see. Poor translation quality can give consumers a negative impression and also affect your reputation.

3. Marketing or creative material
While translation errors in marketing can often produce hilarious results, it’s no laughing matter for any company that finds itself unfortunate enough to have made the mistake. It can also be detrimental to a company’s aspirations to be taken seriously as a business in new countries. Professionally translating all the creative material on your website, like a blog, is a must if you want to avoid such errors. To see what we mean, check out this list of the best marketing errors here.

Advantages of professional translation

1. High accuracy
It’s a translator’s job to ensure your translations are as accurate as possible. With this in mind, you’re guaranteed that your professional translations will be on point. As with any human interaction, there’s always the possibility that there might be a mistake. But even if there is, the next advantage negates that risk.

2. Review and quality procedures
The use of a professional translator means that review and quality procedures can be put in place after the initial translation has been done. The translator can check their work and ensure it meets any agreed quality standards. If there are aspects of the translation that you’re not happy with, you can request changes. With a machine translation, what you see is what you get and you need to conduct all reviews yourself. This can be both time consuming and laborious.

3. Provides context and tone of voice
Rather than just translating words, a professional translator has the ability to keep the original context of your content and also add a tone of voice that would otherwise be missing. From there, they can provide understanding and meaning to the translated version. A machine simply doesn't have this ability.

4. Recognizes creative language
Much creative language and marketing use word play such as puns, metaphors or slogans. Things like blog posts are made interesting by writing them in a format that keeps the reader engaged. Professional translators will recognize this and be able to relay the same creative slant on your translated content. 

5. Understands colloquial differences
Every language has its own unique set of colloquial phrases that people outside of the language won’t either be aware of or understand. A professional translator will know when and where to use these phrases and give your translated content a native feel. This shortcoming is one of the chief limitations of a machine translation.

6. Compensates for lack of direct translation
There isn’t always a way to directly translate one word to another across certain languages. A professional translator can find the most suitable alternative to ensure your content still makes sense. A machine translation would phrase it incorrectly, or ignore it.

Disadvantages of a professional translation

1. Longer turnaround times
As it requires human review and input, professional translation can take much longer than machine translation. The turnaround time all depends on how much site content you need to get translated and how many translators you have working on it. 
Localizer can translate your entire website in two days or less, regardless of how much content you have.

2. Rarely free
Unlike a machine translation, a professional translation inevitably comes at a cost. Cost can vary according to how experienced your translators are and how much site content you need to translate, but it will rarely be free. Having your own in-house translators would be the best scenario, but most companies don't have these. 

Which type of translation should I use for my website? 
Ideally, all your content would be translated professionally, but this can be expensive if you've got a large website to translate.
The next best alternative would be to use a combination of machine and professional translation. 

For example, on generic product pages that don’t need much attention, you could use a machine translation. But on blogs or checkout pages, where mistakes can be detrimental, you could use a professional translation. This way, you get the benefits of a professional translation, reducing cost and risk at the same time. 

When weighing up your options, consider the cost of professional translation versus the potential monetary and reputational costs of having a low-quality translation. If a professional translation could save you from a catastrophe down the line, then it's the logical choice.

Title image credit: Tridindia


Richa - Comment
Richa04 Nov 2016Reply
As per my point of view machine translation is better than human translation. Machines are made by humans only but they are far better and well spoken then humans.
Good one!! I liked the title for this article.
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louis - Comment
louis31 Jul 2017Reply
Thanks for sharing this wonderful and useful information,Please keep updating.
louis - Comment
louis09 Aug 2017Reply
Thanks for the post.

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