Two years after I bought Rapport International, Google launched their machine translation platform, and people immediately assumed companies like mine would go out of business. While there are clear conveniences and benefits to using online translation services to capture single words or key phrases in another language, you definitely should not expect to get the quality, accuracy, and cultural appropriateness that you would get from a human translator.
How Machine/AI Translation Works
Machine translation looks at one word at a time. It basically recognizes a word and spits back the translation. It works well for simple words like dog, hello, or chair.
Neural Machine Translation (also known as AI) takes it one step further, looking at phrases and sentences to predict the translation. NMT/AI applications have deeper programming and “learn” as they are utilized more and more. Yet their learning does not extend beyond capturing phrases and usage of phrases in sentences. This works well for straightforward content like “what’s the weather today?” or “may I have a drink?” What the technology lacks, however, is the ability to understand and learn meaning, emotion, and cultural differences of words.
Why You Need Human Translation for Materials that Matter
Before relying solely Google Translate or NMT to convert important content into other languages to promote your product, service, or company messages, consider these five risks:
- The translation is not accurate. Take this simple statement – “Cut the clutter with paperless billing.” We translated it into Simplified Chinese using Google Translate. Then we used Google Translate to back-translate the Simplified Chinese results back into English, and we got, “Use paperless bills to reduce confusion.” Google Translate captured a gist – but it is unclear and changes the meaning.
- Your carefully crafted marketing message gets lost in translation. One example is Mazda’s tagline in Japanese, Jinba ittai – it captures the feeling of a Japanese mounted archer who is at one with his horse. When we put the phrase into Google Translate, it first translated as “danger” and another time translated as “one horse.” In both cases, the meaning was wrong, and it lacked the depth of feeling from the original phrase.
- When the proper meaning is not translated correctly, you increase your liability. We’ve seen currency exchange companies, law firms and other highly-regulated organizations risk liability using Google Translate. Making a wrong claim or giving false or confusing information because Google Translate just gave a “gist” translation puts the company at risk.
- Using tools like Google Translate on your website, can cause you to lose your target audience. Translation plug-ins do not offer content that sounds like a native speaker of the language. If you are going to offer multilingual content, take the time and care to do it right. Giving your visitors access to translations that are accurate and culturally adapted will keep them more engaged.
- Language pickers are not user-friendly. The language picker is often located in the footer, which makes it difficult to find, especially if you don’t speak English. Then, if you do find it, you will see that the drop-down menu says, “select a language” in English only. So, if you are a visitor who can’t read English they won’t know to go there and select a language. This alone makes the plugin practically useless to put this on your website.
This is not an all-inclusive list. There are many more potential issues that you will encounter when you rely on machine translation and AI over human translators for your professional translation needs. Check out our other content about Google Translate and website translation in our Learning Center, and schedule your free consultation today to discuss your translation questions with one of our experts.
Rapport International specializes in multilingual communications, providing language translation and interpretation services that are accurate and culturally appropriate. We use the right voice, correct terminology to avoid liability, customize services to your needs, and deliver on time and within your budget. And with our 100% satisfaction guarantee, you can trust that it’s done right. Contact us today if you would like more information or to get a free quote.