The Changing Translation Landscape

A February, 2015 article in The Economist brought up a few reasons why machine translation is great, but not necessarily good enough to replace humans. While this may change, for now, serious Web site owners and writers and business owners should not rely on cheap translation programs.

The Changing Translation Landscape

Machine translation programs from Bing, Google and other vendors are good enough for rough translations. The quality is not that great, as anyone who has used Facebook’s ‘Translate this’ feature knows. Premium software could generate, for example, a Thai or a Swedish version of a Web page, but the translation might not be that great. Or it might be. Either way, there is no way to edit this user-generated content.

We live in an age of global connections. That obvious point has one major implication for Web site owners, writers, and technical editors, among others. The EU has 24 languages. The only Asian languages of note 20 years ago where Chinese (Mandarin), Japanese and Korean. Now, Vietnamese and Indonesian are more relevant as well.

Automatic translations into some of the “new” languages might even be less reliable than English-to-Japanese for example. German to Vietnamese or Russian to Cantonese probably need to be handled by human translators.

Translations to and from languages other than English might become more common, and more difficult to check for accuracy and tone. Your company may have native Swedish writers, but does one of them know Hungarian almost as well? Not likely.

Web pages are only translation subject. Printed documents, PDFs and emails can be translated using online tools. Short documents can be translated for free at a couple of Web sites, by feeding the text into the software a few lines at a time.

That process may or may not create readable text. Reviews from native speakers vary with software and language. A human translator who is fluent in both languages will ensure that your documents read correctly.

The best translator for serious business writing is a human who is a competent writer and, of course, a native speaker of the target language. Customers who need to read your blog and Web site would rather see text translated by a human. The same is true for PDF documents, emails, and print documents.

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