What is the impact of machine translation versus human translation?

With the rise of big data and the advancements in deep learning, machine translation has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years, allowing people to instantaneously understand the meaning of a text in a foreign language. While this is acceptable for personal use, more care needs to be taken when translating business communications.


Automatic translation tools can do a fairly good job of translating simple content between languages that have a similar linguistic structure. However, complex languages and more editorial content can result in awkward translations that are sometime completely inaccurate.


Pitfalls of using machine translation


Accuracy is one of the most important aspects of a good translation. Context plays an important role in translation, for example, the word “mug” is often used as a synonym for “cup” on many online stores. However, the word can also mean “to steal or attack” and the wrong translation can seem bizarre on a website selling household items. While customers will understand that the word refers to a cup instead of an attack, it nevertheless deteriorates their sense of trust in the website.


Research has shown that 30% of online shoppers will abandon their shopping carts because of poor product descriptions and one in four customers return items because of inaccurate product information onlinehttp://www.eweek.com/small-business/online-shoppers-blanch-at-inaccurate-product-descriptions.html. Bad translations can have a real impact on a business’ bottom line, not to mention damaging their reputation.


When to use machine translation


Machine translation exists for a reason, but it does have its place. It is best used internally, for example, when a customer service agent receives a message in a foreign language, they can use an automatic translation tool to understand the topic. Is it an unsatisfied customer asking for a refund? Is it a journalist asking to speak to the founder or is it a job seeker applying for the latest position? Once the topic has been identified, they can then send it to the right person or write a response and have it translated by a professional.


Human Translation


Another important aspect of translation is the writing style, which can only truly be achieved by an experienced native speaker. Web content needs to be accurate but also engaging and persuasive. This goes beyond the scope of literal translation, as it involves rewording and adapting content to local audiences.

Human translation may seem more expensive than automatic translation, but the benefits of a good translation (increased conversions, repeat shoppers, better SEO in new markets) and the hidden costs of a bad translation (higher level of returns, bad reputation, dissatisfied customers), make it the better choice in the long term.

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