People vs. Robots: When Google Translate is The Wrong Choice

As a small business owner you may have already experienced just how global business has become. Many geographical borders that previously made trade virtually impossible, have been transcended by tech and you’re probably finding yourself emailing a freelancer in Belgium, ordering supplies from Taiwan and recording data on software hosted in the US all whilst sipping your (Spanish) local barista’s single origin Guatemalan brew.

Spanish language

Most of the time you’ll manage just fine speaking only English in the Global Village. But there will be times your language arsenal needs to be extended.

For those times, there are plenty of free programs out there, such as Google or King translate. They’ll suffice for certain tasks but for others you may want to spend on a translation service. Here’s some advice on knowing when to pay – and when to save.

Free programmes can work for your internal communications

Translation software runs on algorithms which give it the intelligence to change words into their pre-programmed equivalent in a chosen language. It’s clever stuff but unfortunately it has its drawbacks.

Though the technology is advanced it is still an algorithm created for one purpose and free software is never going to live up to a human brain. As a result, a lot of literal translation occurs. Idioms become nonsense. Sentence structures become unstable. It can all get grammatically frightening (though admittedly, sometimes with hilarious results).

However, as far as internal communications are concerned, there’s usually a certain margin for error. Small businesses tend to have small budgets, making it unfeasible for you to spend copious amounts of money on translation services just to send a brief email. And when a slip up does occur, it may cause a little embarrassment on occasion, but usually nothing disastrous.

Pay for clarity with briefs and important documents

If you are working with a freelancer who speaks a different language to you it is paramount that your brief is communicated with ultimate clarity. Any misinterpretations will cost time and money will most certainly be wasted.

Unfortunately the free software available really cannot ensure that does not happen. This is when you may want to think seriously about using a translation service or an interpreter.

Similarly, if you need to translate an important document, particularly a legal document, always go professional. You don’t want to sign on the dotted line of something that makes no sense or that you do not understand. If your document is important then it is worth paying for a quality service.

Ensure you’re getting what you pay for

As there are so many free programs available, translation companies are under growing pressure to be competitive with their prices. Some may even rely on using translation software over people to cut corners, leaving you only a little better off than using Google translate to do it yourself.

Since you won’t be able to quality check the final product, knowing you can trust your agency is of paramount importance. But how do tell a trustworthy translation service from a dodgy one?

Asked to shed some light on this predicament, London Translations, the first UK translation service to be awarded the British Standard for Translation Service Quality, recommended looking for companies that charge by the number of words in the source text so that you have an accurate quote before agreeing to anything.

Due to “word expansion”, which can happen during translation, the resultant word count may be much higher than the source’s. If you pay for the resultant word count you may see the fee edging up over the course of a translation. That kind of shady tactic could be the first sign that you’re not necessarily in good hands.

Ask for a detailed breakdown of costs before and after the service to make sure you have received exactly what you’ve paid for.

Translation tool

When translators work with “robots”

But it is possible to use software and still get a reliable result. A good translation service uses localisation in tandem with certain technologies, such as Translation Memory (TM), to speed up their process. This is called CAT, or computer-assisted translation.

A translator can manage higher levels of information by automating part of the process, thus elevating efficiency and lowering cost. These technologies like TA can be updated regularly by translators which allows for automatic localisation for certain phrases, which will be monitored by the translators to avoid error. CAT tools will learn from previous translations and will work sentence by sentence, using it’s computerised memory to achieve the best result or recommendation.

By utilising human corrections in conjunction with machine translation, and making the process interactive, perfect results can be delivered in a much shorter time period.

Don’t even think about using only translation software for marketing

As for translating product and marketing messages, there is no way around paying to get the expertise of a real professional.

If you don’t, you may find yourself facing the same embarrassment the KFC marketing team apparently did when they introduced their brand to Beijing in the 1980s with the tagline: “Eat Your Fingers Off”.


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