Translation, like any other industry, experiences transformations and is highly affected by advancements in technology. One significant advancement is machine translation and its ability to automate parts of the translation process.

There are many arguments in favor and against machine translation, and each has its grounds, however, all sides of this phenomenon must undergo further review before being crowned or dethroned. 

One of the most important aspects of this argument is how reliable machine translation is as a service. This can be reviewed in terms of free machine translation tools such as Google Translate or machine translation offered by language service providers as part of their translation services.   

What is the difference between free and professional machine translation? 

The idea of machine translation (MT) was born back in the 17th century and has undergone significant transformations since then. Basically, MT is associated with a fully automated software that can render a written text from one language into another without human input. 

One of the most popular tools that uses machine translation is the aforementioned Google Translate, which was launched in 2006, and offers free translation in 103 languages as of this writing. The company has invested a lot of resources in improving the tool, and they introduced Google Neural Machine Translation (GNMT) in November 2016 to offer more accurate and reliable translations.

According to the paper Bridging the Gap between Human and Machine Translation the new tool reduces translation errors by an average of 60% compared to the earlier version, however, it is still far away from matching professional human translation.  

The MT tools used by professional translators and LSPs differ significantly from the free tools in terms of accuracy and reliability. They are particularly trained using a specific database for certain clients and projects, so when the tool is applied, it can populate segments with the same wording and phrases as those used in previous translations.

This ensures higher consistency and can make the overall translation process a bit faster and better. The key difference is that MT output is then reviewed by human translators so any errors are eliminated prior to sending the text over to the client. 

The truth behind a good-reading machine translation 

In recent years, due to the development of machine translation and mainly as a result of introducing neural machine translation (NMT) the output of the translated text has improved significantly. Still, it depends a lot of improvement on the language combination and the content of the text, as well as the length of the sentences, to ensure the translated text that you receive will look and sound professional.

There is, however, one trick behind this “improved” service. While the translated text flows better and has become more readable, this does not mean that the overall quality and accuracy of the translation has improved with the same rate. On the contrary, quite often the meaning has little or nothing to do with the meaning of the source text. You may be fooled by the fact that the text reads better, and thus, blindly trust its meaning.

Note that even a completely wrong translation may sound fluent and it can be easier to miss the errors it contains. To some extent, this makes free MT tools even more dangerous. You should always approach unedited MT output with caution, especially when it concerns a free tool. 

Still, it is necessary to differentiate between free online tools and MT software that is specifically developed for the purposes of your company and its translation needs. When the database of the translation memory is well-educated, and the software is properly applied and used, it can produce great results and save you time and money in getting a decent translation. Still, the cases when only machine translation should be used are limited. 

Should we opt for machine translation only? 

Machine translation can be a valuable assistant in many cases. Almost any business, regardless of the industry in which it operates, can avail of its benefits, as long as it uses them properly. Machine translation is quite popular for travel and tourism enterprises as it allows them to read and understand customer reviews, for example, without having to pay too much for professional MT.

Some of the suitable uses for free machine translation include:

  • To get the gist of a document and decide which parts need proper translation
  • To facilitate communication between multilingual members of the company 
  • To translate less important pages of your website 
  • To collect data about a new business opportunity, about your competitors, customer preferences and the like 
  • To promote lead generation by automated translation of clients’ e-mails in order to get the idea of their needs

Still, when it comes to business translations, it is not advisable to rely solely on machine translation. If you want to save time and money, you can get a language service provider who uses machine translation as a basic output and then the text is edited and proofread by human translators who make sure that there are no differences between the source and the target text. 

Another important issue to keep in mind is the problem with confidentiality. Once you upload a document in Google Translate, it becomes the property of Google and valuable information can be leaked. This can entail serious legal and financial problems. Therefore, it is highly recommended to avoid free MT tools for business purposes.

Many companies, however, still have serious concerns against MT software and do not want anything to do with it. If you select the right vendor, though, these problems are virtually non-existent, since translation agencies use only professional software that only aims to facilitate and improve the overall translation process.

You can rest assured that with a trusted translation partner as ICD Translation, you will get a high-quality machine translation that is reliable and adapted to your specific business needs.  

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