Machine vs. Human Translation

One in five US residents speaks a foreign language at home, and the percentage keeps growing. Translation has become a very important necessity in our day-to-day interactions and it is an essential tool for communication between businesses, companies and customers, and countries. Historically, a translation would go through an agency or other trained translator, but in the past few years, machine translation tools have been gaining more traction as technology evolves. There is a time and a place for each type of translation and understanding the benefits and limitations of each will help you determine your own specific translation and localization needs.

Machine Translation

Machine translation engines, like Google Translate, work on Statistical Machine Translation, which essentially gathers data over time to statistically offer the best translation in a target language. There are distinct advantages and disadvantages to working with machine translation.

On the plus side, it is a free service (or minimal cost if used through an API). Services like Google Translate are conveniently available online and translations are instantaneous and ready to use immediately. Machine translators offer a wide variety of languages and the service is simple to use.

However, the disadvantages include the limitations that come along with the service and the fact that the output is not a comprehensive translation. Not every type of text can be translated by a machine, and the end result will not produce a natural, fluently readable translation. Machine translators spit out mechanical and direct translations of words without accounting for flow or context.

So when would you want to use machine translation? Because a language can be automatically detected and you don’t need to spend time figuring out its native tongue, machine translation can come in handy when the goal is to simply understand the gist of a piece of content. You can easily translate your own message into a different language, which is useful for quick and informal communication. Machine translation is appropriate for unofficial purposes, but due to the margin of error and lack of contextual translation, we recommend it be avoided for official use.

Human Translation

Human translation involves a trained professional translating content, whether that is in person or not. Human translators are often native speakers of the target language and are also trained in the subject matter of which they are translating.

The advantages of human translation typically outweigh the disadvantages, especially in professional settings. When corresponding on an official level, human translation professionals are recommended since context is an extremely important aspect of communication and understanding. Translating web content, marketing copy, etc. doesn’t boil down to a simple word-for-word translation. In order to convey a brand’s identity and the appropriate message, a human needs to interpret what is being said – beyond the actual words – and then find the right way to say it in the target language. Each language has its own nuances, details, and cultural rules, and working with a trained human translator will also ensure consistency in messaging across all languages.

The only real disadvantage to using a human translator would be in instances that require understanding or communicating the gist of something in unofficial correspondence. In these cases, you probably wouldn’t want to spend the money or time on human translation.

Most of the time, though, human translation is the way to go. Humans are essential to making sure a translation makes sense in terms of grammar, slang, language subtleties, which allows the translation to carry the same tone and meaning of the original text.

Argo Translation employs translators and production staff across the globe. Our diversity gives us a unique perspective when tackling your projects. Learn more about our services here.

The Importance of International Translation Day
Read article ›
Appreciation for Translators
Read article ›
A Translation for a Rainy Day
Read article ›
calendar on desk
International Translation Day
Read article ›