The Pros and Cons of Machine Translation
Machine translators have become easily accessible over the past decade and the technology has grown in accuracy. In turn, this has led to a lot of discourse regarding the pros and cons of machine translation. In this post, we will discuss the advantages and drawbacks of using machine translation for your business content.
What is Machine Translation?
Machine translation refers to the translation of text through automated software with no human involvement. The most well-known machine translation service is Google Translate. You’ve likely used it multiple times, perhaps when you were on holiday or when you wanted to translate a passage from a book. It is an incredibly useful service, but is machine translation advanced enough to be able to translate your businesses content?
Human Translation Vs Machine Translation
When Should You Use Machine Translation?
Machine translation software like Google Translate is an advanced and useful technology. Want to know how to ask where the bathroom is on your weekend away in Paris? It has you covered. But that is the general purpose for such technology, to translate small pieces of content.
What is Google’s Recommendation for Using Google Translate?
It’s worth noting that Google does not use their own machine translation software to translate their content, and recommend that you do not either.
Does Machine Translation Have Any Uses for Business Content?
All this does not mean that machine translation cannot be useful for your business. Machine translation technology has advanced rapidly over the years and these days, it closely resembles how translated content should appear. Therefore, it can be useful for testing content and verifying that all of your content has been translated, for example, when exporting files from a CMS such as WordPress.
It can also be helpful for testing the display of Unicode characters and RTL settings, along with raising UI issues from text expansion. For example, English to German translations can expand the character count by up to 40 percent which has a knock on effect on design. The decreased space on your page means you have to reevaluate your layout and may even need to trim down copy or change visual elements.
What Are Machine Translations Limitations?
There are limitations to the abilities of machine translation, however, so it should not solely be relied upon and it is always best to have a human translator to check all content for errors.
For example, translating content that includes code or placeholders with machine translation can lead to disastrous results. Here is an example of a key from a JSON file and an assigned string with a small amount of HTML code:
“WARNING”: “<p>This is a warning message <em>Warning: Stop</em>, please use the recommend settings.</p><p>The may not function as expected if not using recommended settings. </p>”
Below is how Google Translate translates it into French.
<p> Il s’agit d’un message d’avertissement <em> Avertissement: arrêtez </ em>, veuillez utiliser les paramètres recommandés. </ p> <p> Il se peut que le système ne fonctionne pas correctement si vous n’utilisez pas les paramètres recommandés. </ p>
Additional spaces have been added in and around HTML tags, which in turn breaks the HTML code. Similar results are to be found in .properties, XML and other file types with tags.
Humans Understand Cultural
When using machine translation, you are effectively translating your content word for word. However, with human translation you gain added insight into the audience you are translating for and the marketplace in that country or region. Word for word translations can often lead to some mortifying situations. For example, KFC encountered a rather embarrassing situation when it translated “Finger-lickin’-good” into Chinese. The text was interpreted as “We’ll eat your fingers off” by the Chinese people. As you would imagine, this did not help them sell chicken.
Your Brands Voice
You will have spent hours, weeks, or even months crafting the content on your website or other marketing materials. It is written in your brands’ tone of voice and retaining this in international content is important for successful translations. A human translator will help you maintain consistency in your brand which will allow you to establish your brand identity in a new market.
The first step in entering a new international market is often translating your website. You have probably put a lot of time and research into targeting a specific keyword in your home market, however, simply translating them word for word may not work in your new market.
Keywords are the cornerstone of all SEO strategies but the keywords your audience search for in your native language may not translate exactly in another language. For example, “coffee shop” is a common search term, and when translated to Spanish the result is “cafeteria”. However, in Spain, the search term “café” has a much higher search volume and would be a better keyword to target.
A human translator can help provide you with these insights by reviewing your SEO strategies and giving feedback on which terms locals are most more likely to search for. Your SEO team can them verify this with keyword research.
Top Tip: Search engines often favour content from local sites in their SERPS so get a country-specific domain, (e.g., yourwebsite.ca, yourwebsite.co.uk, yourwebite.fr.) when entering a new market.
Machine Translation has its pros and cons. It can be helpful in testing translated content and raising UI issues, however, it should not be used for translating your business content. Machine translations can often be inaccurate and even cause embarrassing errors by ignoring cultural context. Human translators bring additional insights into a country’s culture and your target audiences behaviour than can be invaluable in successfully breaking into a new market.
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