Every September 30, the world celebrates International Translation Day opens in a new window. While all translations might be celebrated, some are definitely superior to others. How can you tell the difference? The best translations are done by humans.
Automated technology has done wonders for the way we live and work. Still, there are some things it just can’t do as well as a person can. Online automation can’t write a compelling news story, it can’t fully masquerade as a human in conversation, and it can’t translate text impeccably.
Wondering if you should choose an online document translator or the human equivalent? In this guide, we’ll break down why a human translator is best. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know!
What Is an Online Document Translator?
First, let’s take a quick look at how online translation works.
Online translation is any service that automatically takes the words of one language and substitutes them for another. People often use free versions supported by search engines for quick translations. However, the results are often inaccurate, clunky, funny and awkward.
Today, even top-level online translation still has flaws. However, they aren’t all bad. Let’s check to see if the pros of an online document translator can outweigh the cons.
Benefits of Online Translation
One of the most obvious benefits of online document translation is the low cost. You might need to pay for the service, but you won’t need to pay a skilled person for the hours spent translating text.
Online translators can also work fast. They leverage the power of cloud servers and massive databases to generate translations in almost real time!
Online document translation can give you the general idea of what’s in a document. It won’t capture every word with a perfect translation, but it will give you the gist of the concept.
Finally, with an online translator, you can easily access multiple languages. With in-person translation, you typically need a different person when you want to translate documents into each new language.
Drawbacks of Online Translation
Now, for the not-so-good stuff.
Although online translation looks appealing at first glance, it has some serious flaws.
In many languages, a word or an idea can mean more than one thing, depending on the context. However, machines are still bad at determining context in the way that translation requires.
That’s why online document translation so often results in confusing, strange, and even funny texts. If they pick the wrong translation for the context, you might get the general idea, but the exact meaning of the text gets lost.
Some text has also humor or plays-on-words that a machine just can’t understand. Maybe someday, as technology improves, this will become possible. But right now, that day is far in the distance.
Online translators simply take translation too literally. It’s also possible for online translators to have bugs or make mistakes that have nothing to do with context.
Machine translators are at times not good at identify internal markup (formatting tags) and moving it to where it should belong in the translated text. This creates formatting issues that only humans can detect and correct.
Finally, there are some less-common languages that machine translation may not be able to handle yet. For those, the only option is human translators.
When is Machine Translation Acceptable?
When the translation is used for internal consumption or is used to seed a new market, machine translation may be sufficient. It facilitates understanding the gist of the content and enables companies to evaluate new markets with little up front investment.
At times, it helps to have content machine translated before a human translator gets to it, but these cases do not occur as often as people think they do. Most of the time, companies are updating previous translations and existing translations are of much higher quality than machine generated ones, so it is better to reuse it.
Other times, the content that is machine translated simply does not save any time for the translators to use. So when professional results are needed, it pays to simply hire professionals to do the translation from scratch.
Why Is a Human Translator Still Best?
In most instances where professional results are a must, the benefits of an online document translator don’t outweigh the drawbacks.
If you need only the essence of a text, or a few simple words translated, a machine can do it. But when you need to preserve true meaning or share that translation with the outside world, seek a human translator.
Let’s take a closer look at why human translation beats the machine in these instances.
Humans Understand Tone
When people write text, they write with a unique tone and style. For example, Hemingway’s clipped, melancholy tone is vastly different from Nabokov’s creative, poetic word choices.
Although those examples are from famous novelists, the importance of tone and style rings true across the board. From academic essays to poetry, each writer conveys far more with their tone than with word choice alone.
As of now, machines can’t recognize tone the way humans can. They might be able to translate meaning, but they can never get the style right. This means that the power of a text is reduced with an online translation.
Humans Know Culture
Culture colors language in more ways than we may realize. For the best translation, you need a human who understands the cultures of each language.
However, no one as of yet has taught culture to a machine. Culture governs everything from the way people interact, eat, and work, to the way they choose their words. You just can’t separate language from culture opens in a new window.
Even within the same language, there can be multiple cultures. And in those cultures, the same word might have different meanings. Some words that mean one thing in the Spanish spoken in Spain mean something very different in the Spanish spoken in Argentina.
Human translators who know the culture can capture these differences. This helps preserve accuracy and avoid embarrassing translation mistakes.
Humans Are up to Date
Languages change so fast, even the dictionary has a hard time keeping up. Machines may not be programmed to keep up with these changes. But a human who speaks the language regularly will already be aware and sensitive to them.
For example, new slang spreads like wildfire online, reaching countless people before the translation software catches up. Language evolves constantly. If you want to capture that evolution for the latest, most accurate translations, you shouldn’t use a machine.
Where to Find a Professional Translator
An online document translator can work for short, simple texts to give you the general idea. But if you want a document properly translated or professionally published in another language, one that you will be proud to share with your customers, you’ll need a human translator.
However, that doesn’t mean you need to hire a translator to be physically present at your company. You can find qualified professional translators online.
Not sure where to start? We can help — learn more about us here!
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