9 Common Pitfalls of Machine Translation

Machines can understand and translate human speech better than ever before. However, bots from Google to Amazon still struggle to understand your words, handle humor or do anything much beyond give you an approximation of what was originally said.

When it comes to translating files, machines can do a lot in place of human intervention—but they’re not the ideal solution for translation. 

Machine translation can be quicker and more budget-friendly than using a certified human translation service, but the trade-off is an increase in errors and other problems. Here are nine pitfalls of machine translation that will have you thinking twice before employing them.

1. The Accuracy Suffers

A machine translator doesn’t go back to check its work. There’s no pause-and-repeat function to allow a machine to go over a phrase more than once, then accurately transcribe it. 

Machine translations are most effective when used to get a general idea of a passage or piece of content. However, when it comes to word-for-word accuracy from one language to another, a machine won’t deliver a high percentage of accurate translation. You need a human touch to review and edit a translation for the best possible level of accuracy. 

2. You Lose Context

Machines are very literal. They can’t understand how a mistranslated word or phrase could change the meaning of a passage in different contexts. 

A human eye and ear on your translation can save you from an embarrassing error. A machine will miss nuances or contexts that make a passage accurate and relevant.

From puns to sarcasm, machines miss those nuances while a human translator can listen to a phrase and understand how to translate it in a way that makes sense culturally in the target language. 

3. You Lose Time

You might find a quicker (almost instant) turnaround time on a machine translation, but you’ll likely have to spend valuable time reviewing and correcting errors. 

Consider a quick, yet inaccurate translation plus the additional time you’ll spend fixing it. Now compare that to the time for a certified human translator to translate your piece, check for errors, and guarantee their final work. 

It might take slightly longer to get your final translation, but the accuracy is worth it. If you allow enough time to meet your deadline, human translation always wins. 

4. They Limit File Formats

Machine translators are finicky. They might have limits to the types of file formats they can read, which limits your options when choosing an engine to use. There may also be significant limits on file size, narrowing the field even further. 

If you recorded audio or typed your document in an unaccepted format, you’re stuck without a translator. Choosing a human translator often gives you more options to use your file, no matter the format or size. 

While human translators may have preferred file formats, outright file rejection is less likely, and providing what they need means that your project will get done faster.

5. They Can’t Think

Machines can’t think, and they don’t ask questions. They use programming to interpret words and find the closest equivalent in another language for the translation. 

Some languages don’t have an exact equivalent in a different language. Machines either translate to a similar (but inaccurate) word, or you’ll find blatant gaps in the translations. 

When you work with a professional human translator, they understand language barriers. If a word or phrase has no exact translated meaning, they’ll recommend a suitable equivalent translated phrase to maintain the integrity of your document across languages. 

6. You Lose Money

“But some machine translations are free!”

You get what you pay for. Trying to save a buck on a “free” translation service can cost you more money to edit the translation. Whether you do it yourself or you pay someone to edit, you’re not getting anything for free. 

Time is valuable. Your staff has better things to do than to edit a free machine translation that’s full of errors. It’s a better investment of time and budget dollars to work with a certified human translator from the start. 

7. It’s Not an Expert

A machine is not an expert in any languages or specific industry jargon. Again, an machine translation service is a program. It’s only as accurate as the person that developed the software and the material that it’s fed. 

Certified translators are experts in their languages, and often, complex industries. Find a translator that specializes in the parent language and the end-result language. You’ll save yourself from potentially offensive or dangerous errors in the final results.

8. It Can Get Wordy

Why stay it in five words when you can say it in fifteen words in a different language? If you notice your document is much longer than the original, your machine translator probably added more words than necessary to find a “close enough” translation. 

When paying by the word for a machine translation service, beware of paying for words you don’t need and a confusing document. Concise is always better than convoluted. 

9. It’s Not Creative

When translating marketing materials or creatively-driven pieces, a machine translation program regularly gets lost in translation. 

Creative content often uses words in unique contexts. You’ll also find made-up words for creative, dramatic, or humorous effects. Machines won’t catch those subtleties in language or context. 

Using a human translator will help you market to multiple audiences with varying languages while taking creative flair into account. 

Machine Translation is No Match For Humans

Machine translation might be fast, but it’s no match for human quality and accuracy. When your documents or files matter most, choose certified human translators to guarantee the translated work is the best it can possibly be.

It’s worth the time and money to get the job done right the first time. Let us provide a free quote for your translation needs!


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