In the last section, we learned about the capabilities of machine translation and how the quality of certain approaches can rival that of professional linguists. But these technologies can’t yet replace the fluency, fluidity and creativity of a human translator.
Because of this, critics say machine translations often lack a “spark,” or an ineffable verve. A human touch, if you will.
For organizations that want to perfectly replicate their brand’s voice and industry terminology—or use locally preferred phrases to dazzle customers in specific markets or regions—using human translators is the best choice.
We’ll take a closer look at the benefits and challenges human translation, including:
The Competitive Edge of Human Creativity: Accurately translating the facts—and spirit—of source material can be challenging for human translators. But we’ll show you how their creativity and other skills—such as the ability to accurately localize a brand’s voice—beats machine translation every time.
The Importance of Cultural Fluency: Machine translation platforms can’t replicate a human’s in-depth—or native—knowledge of international cultures. You’ll learn about multilingual markets’ unique regional slang and other verbiage, and why only a human translator can authentically capture it.
The Challenges of Human Translation: Even the staunchest supporters of NMT admit that human linguists craft superior translations. But a human translator can’t translate as fast as a computer can, and they generate higher translation costs. We’ll share a few other concerns, too.
Technologies to Mitigate Those Challenges: You’ll learn about clever ways to sidestep most of the downsides of human translation, including the savvy application of translation memory and “segment optimization” technologies.
The Different Types of Human Translation: Finally, we’ll wrap up with a “101”-like breakdown of several important types of translation, including localization and transcreation. And we’ll provide a handy guide to help you determine what type of translation you might need for your own website translation project.
Why Customers Trust Human Translation for Websites
Human translation enhances connections between people, and it shapes our day-to-day lives in powerful ways—both in the real world and online.
They also appreciate the linguistic localizations that accurately reflect the character of their cultures.
Benefits of Human Translation for Websites
For the uninitiated, translation is more complicated than it might appear. Many linguists liken it to more of an art than science. That’s because:
- In most languages, many words and phrases have several different meanings
- All of those options must be considered when selecting the best words for a translation
- The translation must also accurately capture the spirit of the source material
- Since humans are often reviewing translations crafted by humans, there’s rarely one singularly “correct” translation
- This requires human translators to possess a combination of extensive training, authoritative linguistic fluency and imaginative thinking
Despite the linguistic complexities associated with human translation, most organizations find that the extra effort to be worth it. This is because the advantages of human translation generally eliminate the shortcomings of machine translation:
Fluency That Transcends Translation
You’ll learn more about this vital cultural fluency a bit later in this section.
As we mentioned in the previous section, machine translation systems often fail when they encounter words or phrases that don’t have a conventional one-for-one “word pairing” in the target (or translated) language. This is usually due to grammatical differences between the two languages.
They also often choke when encountering idioms or other unique words.
Human translators can more easily fill these grammatical and lexical gaps. Armed with creative brains and the ability to understand the full context of what they’re translating, linguists have the mutual intelligence needed to craft consistent, accurate translations.
An organization’s carefully crafted turns of phrase—such as slogans, proprietary terms, or industry-specific phrases—are represented more clearly when professional human translators are involved. Machine translation systems are more likely to translate the words of those phrases, but not capture their spirit.
That’s a big deal, especially when translating well-crafted writing, marketing copy or content with humor or wordplay.
Human translators are adept at selecting the best-possible translated words and phrases that positively impact international SEO. For now, machine translation can’t do this.
Challenges of Human Translation for Websites
Relying exclusively on human linguists to translate online and offline content will certainly deliver superior results in terms of translation quality. But there are a few drawbacks to human translation, such as:
Speed to Market
Gifted professional linguists can usually translate about 250 words in an hour, or about 1,500 words a day. Considering the creativity required for the job, that’s a remarkable pace … but it can’t keep up with machine translation. Those software systems can translate thousands of words in seconds.
The skilled people who craft those world-class translations don’t work for free. When making apples-to-apples comparisons based solely on monetary cost, machine translation will always be the more affordable option.
Possible Gaps in Certifications and Confidentiality
Organizations can face the risk of human translators discovering and compromising proprietary information. The odds, while slim, often depend on the character and quality of the contracted Language Service Provider or freelancer.
Mitigating the Challenges of Human Translation
Thankfully, there are straightforward ways to sidestep these comparative shortcomings. The solutions often rest in the hands of reputable vendors that specialize not only in providing excellent linguists, but also applying technologies in innovative or entirely new ways:
Translation Memory Dramatically Accelerates Speed to Market
Here’s a simplified need-to-know about translation memory:
- Translation memory is a database that stores all of a project’s translated content
- This content is often stored in word-, phrase- or sentence-length chunks called segments
- Segments are used by translation management software to help human translators and accelerate the process of publishing content that’s previously been translated
When organizations publish new content on their origin websites, website translation platforms identify the content and then compare it to phrases that have already been translated and stored in the translation memory database. If it detects a match, the translated phrase is instantly published on the translated website.
This instant delivery reduces the time to market for translations. Further, reputable vendors can translate net-new content—meaning, content that hasn’t yet been translated—in about a business day, generally regardless of quantity.
Translation memory dramatically reduces translation costs, too. Here’s why: Scrupulous vendors won’t charge to translate previously translated content more than once. This means that when a phrase appears dozens, hundreds—or even thousands—of times on a website, the company has paid to translate it only once.
Further, some vendors leverage innovative pattern-recognizing segment optimization capabilities to find and translate repetitive text segments within dynamically generated web content. Again, companies pay to translate these phrases only once (instead of every time the content might appear on-site).
Work with Accredited Vendors
Organizations can easily avoid the risk of information leaks or other unexpected compromising situations by working with vendors that have been in business for years, are ISO 17100 and ISO 9001:2015 certified, and have passed other rigorous security certifications.
A Vital Element of Human Translation: Cultural Fluency
Another indescribable element of human translation that machines may never be able to replicate is the nuanced—and often first-hand—knowledge of a market’s unique cultural identity, how it communicates, and how that unique perspective impacts customer expectations.
This cultural fluency can play an invaluable role in the creative act of translation, especially in word choice. For instance, Spanish words commonly used in Mexico may not exist—or may mean entirely different things—in other Latin American countries.
The word “popcorn” is a good example of this. In the Spanish language, there are at least nine unique phrases for this single term that are only understood in specific countries:
Armed with the right knowledge about a market—such as locally preferred lingo, customs, holidays and buying preferences— human translators can communicate an organization’s brand messaging, value proposition and more in highly relevant and resonant ways.
No computer program can do that yet.
Types of Human Translation
Most folks consider the word “translation” to mean something fairly straightforward: the process of converting content from one language into another.
But as we’ve learned, that definition tells only part of the story. Depending on an organization’s industry, target audience, business goals and budget, word-for-word translation might not be the only approach—or even the best approach—to use.
There are four key translation approaches that organizations should consider as they present their content to customers around the world:
Each approach has its own unique benefits and drawbacks. Let’s take a closer look.
Conventional translation is exactly what you think it is: taking online and offline content in its original language—let’s say English—and rewriting it for target audiences in the languages they prefer—Spanish, Chinese, French, etc.
The word choices in these translated phrases often reflect a universally understood version of the target language. Regionalisms aren’t commonly used.
Localization goes beyond the linguistic word-for-word conversion of conventional translation and instead uses words and phrases that resonate within specific markets. (This is an example of cultural fluency, described in the previous section.) By using these regionally preferred translations, organizations often generate more interest and engagement among customers.
Experts recommend applying localizations to about 20% of a project’s content; this amount is enough to illustrate a brand’s fluency in a region’s locally preferred phrases. The remaining 80% of the content can be translated with more mainstream or conventional word choices.
Customizing on-site imagery that reflect regional lingo or sensibilities is another way to localize content. This builds brand credibility and trust.
Using region-specific terms can boost SEO by matching terms customers use in local search engines, too.
Localization Transcends Translation
Localization goes beyond word choice. It can also apply to how a website presents information, how it’s designed, or even how it functions.
Elements such as currency, payment options and dimensions for products can—and should—be localized to local standards whenever possible. If local company contact information is available, it should be clearly presented to users, too.
Translation is the conversion of content from one language to another. Transliteration is the conversion of written content from one writing system to another.
Instead of translating the meaning of a word, transliteration relies on phonetic elements from the original word to recreate the sound in another language without rendering meaning. With some creativity, however, transliterations can use sound choices or wordplay to evoke certain meanings and qualities to local customers.
Transliteration often occurs when companies expand into markets where the preferred language doesn’t use non-Latin alphabets. These markets might include China, Japan, South Korea, Russia or the Middle East/North Africa.
Transcreation is “creative translation,” in which a message is adapted from one language to another not necessarily word-for-word, but by preserving intent, context and tone. This is translation at its most artful.
Brand slogans, advertising copy and other “wordsmithed” content requires more than conventional translation to deliver the same impact in other languages. Skilled human translators must recreate the messaging’s wordplay, wit and intent.
Transcreation is also sometimes necessary for markets that use the same language. Due to cultural references or local sensitivities, the content’s message must be recreated in ways that still resonate with local customers.
A Transcreation Use Case
In the 1990’s, British telecommunications company Orange UK ran into trouble with their slogan, “The future’s bright… The future’s Orange,” when it expanded into Northern Ireland.
There, orange is a symbol of Protestantism, a hot-button topic for an Irish Catholic population still dealing with sectarian violence at the time.
Great transcreations require a combination of linguistic expertise and marketing creativity, which means it can be pricey. It’s often reserved for marketing materials that need to be brand-perfect or culturally sensitive.
Choosing the Right ‘Flavor’ of Human Translation for Websites
If you’re looking to serve multilingual customers at home or abroad but aren’t sure what types of translation you need, use this chart to determine which combination best serves your business needs:
The thoughtful application of human translation is vital to the success of an organization’s translated content—and its business impact in multilingual markets.
But human translation need not be applied to the entire scope of a translation project. Some machine translation approaches, particularly Neural Machine Translation, can produce high-quality results that are absolutely suitable for less brand-sensitive content, where word choice is not as important.
But for highly visible content where consistency of tone and accuracy information is critical—such as website home pages or popular landing pages—human translation remains the best option.
Read more about website translation in our ultimate guide to website translation.
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