Translation Technology

The Shortcomings of Machine Translation

Machine translation technologies like Google Translate can be more trouble than they’re worth. The right translation partner can help you sidestep the pitfalls.

Craig Witt's avatar
Craig Witt

June 19, 2018

2 MIN READ

It’s tempting to rely on machine translation to localize your website for global markets.

After all, tools like Google Translate are fast, cheap (or free), and feel like they’re easy to use. And while they can be handy for translating a quick phrase for a piece of content, they’re just not ideal for handling full-scale website translation. Here’s why.

Translation Accuracy

The hard truth: Google Translate doesn’t always get it right.

That’s because there’s more to translation than just swapping out words in another language. Machine translation technologies are notorious for doing word-literal translations … and in the process, they lose the authenticity that comes with accurate, relevant translation.

Many words and phrases in other languages are nuanced, and not word-for-word translations from English. Getting them right requires the deft hand of an expert linguist who knows the language, understands the culture, and can provide translations that reflect the actual language use of people in that market.

Without it, content credibility suffers.

Cheap Now, Expensive Later

The accuracy problem creates more than just language and content hassles.

Relying solely on something like Google Translate can feel like savvy cost savings up front, but the time and effort it can take to undo bad and inaccurate machine translation can mean significant spend later on.

Your translators will have to review all the content, adjust it for accuracy and completeness, and ensure that there’s nothing in there that will put off—or even outright offend—readers in your new markets.

This can often take many times as long as it would have to translate it right the first time, with the help human expertise … and that means more dollars you have to spend to fix the problem.

Hybrid Is Better

All of this isn’t to say that machine translation doesn’t have a place in website translation. It can, and it does.

The key is to supplement machine translation with the right human expertise to get the advantages of both.

Some content can easily be translated by something like Google Translate, and then reviewed critically by editorial and quality assurance teams for accuracy and relevance. This can come in especially handy for product descriptions or other straightforward content that doesn’t need a lot of emotional nuance or context.

But when it comes to the content that really makes your brand shine—like marketing copy, thought leadership content or key customer service elements like FAQs—you’ll want a higher-touch solution.

That’s when human translation experts can step in, leveraging your brand style guides, glossaries and the cultural nuances of the markets you’re speaking to in order to create content that’s authentic and personal.

Partners Can Help

Don’t be afraid to lean on your website translation partner for help with this balance.

The right one should set up strong evaluation criteria for you that helps determine which content can be translated easily with automated software, and which deserves a more careful investment of human expertise and linguistic knowledge.

The result is website translation that makes the most of your budget, while also avoiding awkward and costly machine translation mistakes. This way, your global brand can shine, no matter where in the world you’re doing business.

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