Machine Translation, Translation, Translation Culture

Should You Use Machine Translators or Human Translators for High Volume Translations?

Machine translators or Human translators

When High Volume Means Hard Choices:

Your company is expanding into the global marketplace and you have a plethora of advertising material to translate. You will follow this up with a high volume marketing campaign. At the same time, you have procedure manuals and handbooks to get into the hands of your local-hire staff, ensure your company’s new website is up and running in the local language, and you must ensure all of your legal documents are translated and authenticated. Many of these items will be on-going tasks that will require vast amounts of continued translation. After all, your daily blog, weekly advertisements, and newsletters all need to be in your customers’ native language. The big questions now are: what sort of translation service should you use? What is the potential cost of going with a high-volume, quick turnaround machine translation service? At what point are the higher priced human translators no longer worth the investment?

Many times, companies requiring high volume translation seek out low-cost translation solutions. Instead of choosing multiple translation agencies or even multiple services within the same agency the company will negotiate a bulk translation rate and hope for the best. The results are often the makings of Snopes searches, since people cannot believe that such costly, but avoidable, errors made by huge internationals are true. Despite the funny punchlines at the expense of many a marketing department, no company ever feels it will happen to them.

The Hidden Costs of Cheap Translation

While there are documents that can be translated through computer-assisted translation without much concern, your business contracts, research, or information that could affect your bottom line should never be among them.

Translating words incorrectly or submitting documents which contain errant spelling may be viewed as an innocent mistake and nothing may come of it. Of course, if the missing or mistranslated word or phrase is a key piece of data you could lose customers and money. Worse, an inappropriate cultural reference could cost you your business.

When translations constitute part of your daily business, their importance increases. A simple error could result in missed deadlines, customer complaints, a damaged reputation, or the fallout from an entire auditorium full of people showing up to hear your presentation a week early. When translation errors lead to advertisements showing the wrong price, date, product, or location it could cost you a lot more than you anticipated. Web pages with poor translation end up with lower SEO rankings because their keywords are often off and because they get penalized for the quality of the site.

One of the major obstacles machine translations face is that of cultural context. Should your translation not connect with the people, such as the infamous Coors “Turn It Loose” marketing campaign in Spain, which promised all of its customers diarrhea, you could have a product launch with no buyers. Worse yet, you could have shipped the wrong materials or products, produced faulty products or equipment based on mistranslated specs, signed contracts that are highly unfavorable due to faulty wording, etc. The money you saved on translation will never compensate you for the loss of reputation, the demands for refunds, and, ultimately, loss of customers.

For a researcher, if the data is not presented professional way, how much faith will your readers, your fellow researchers, have in your abilities? If the methodology is not translated properly, will anybody be able to replicate your work and give credence to your material? Even worse, if faulty translation results in a product or service that results in harm you could be legally liable for damages. Consider the cost of mistranslating words or phrases using words like “don’t”, “never”, “always”, or “no”.

Strategies for Maximizing Your Translation Dollars

Companies look for inexpensive translation for a reason, especially when translating a large volume of material. Translations performed by humans are more expensive than those done by machine (in the short-term) and take longer (if you are not concerned with a detailed editing process). If every translation was horrible, machine translation companies would all be out of business. The reality is that there are some excellent machine translation services, and not all machine translation is shoddy. The key is knowing which documents you can afford to have translated by machine and which ones need a more thorough human touch.

One option for saving money without compromising quality is taking the time to clarify the relative importance of your documents and apply the highest quality translation to those with the highest importance. For documents that are not likely to cause trouble if there are a few inaccuracies, a simple machine translation is just fine. If having something misunderstood could cost you money, reputation, or customers, then that is a document worth detailed, human translation services to ensure translation accuracy. By prioritizing your workload and selecting your services, you save money without jeopardizing your business.

Another way to save on cost is to incorporate machine translation, but ensure there is a post-translation editing by a human with native-quality language and cultural understanding. You might even up the ante a little more and go with a service whose translators possess subject-specific mastery. This means that after a machine translates your documents and does most of the simple work, a human who has native-level fluency in the target language, is an expert in your field, and also possesses knowledge of the target language’s cultural context will review the document and ensure translation accuracy. This approach provides assurance that you are not committing any cultural faux pas, that the colloquialisms are right, and the terminology is correct.

Negotiate your options with the translation services provider. Most reputable translation companies will have a range of services and will reward you with a bulk discount if you do volume translation with them. You just need to let them know your goals. Often you may not even know what documents need extra editing or care, but the translators do. If they know your needs, translators can work with you to make certain your key documents have proper cultural references, are localized for their region, or are optimized for SEO to get the attention needed.

It is never easy to balance the bottom line, and saving money on translation services may seem like an obvious way to cut expenses. Before you decide to commit to a one-size-fits-all high volume, low-cost translation deal, however, take the time to consider the hidden costs of improper translation, and take a look at the alternatives. Not all machine translation is poor and not every piece of text needs human translation, but every piece of your work represents you; regardless of the size of your project or the pressure of the timeline, always translate with that in mind and you won’t go wrong.

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