Human, machine or hybrid: choosing the right translation type for your content
With the advances in machine translation and machine learning, we are experiencing a shift in the general perception about the need for human translation. With free translations so readily available at the touch of a button, why should we even consider paying for translation?
It’s a fair question and it’s easy to understand why some people are starting to believe that it’s only a matter of time before we won’t need human translation at all.
However, if you are a stakeholder in a successful brand, and have worked extremely hard to define and build a brand personality and have perfected the way you communicate with your customers, then you will know, all too well, how important it is to correctly localise your messages for each of your target markets. And, for this, you need professional human translators with experience and a flair for communicating effectively in your particular market.
It’s this experience and flair that will, arguably, always be out of reach for machine translation, regardless of AI capabilities or processing power.
The role of the marketeer is to constantly develop new and engaging ways to communicate their messages, to captivate, educate and inspire their audiences, and in so doing the way they communicate is constantly changing. And as a consequence, language is constantly evolving too. Machines, over time, will identify these changes and adapt to them, however it’s unlikely they’ll be able to develop innovative, engaging, and most importantly, culturally accurate (and up-to-date) translations by themselves, anytime soon.
Which translation type is for you?
Certainly, in the world of creative marketing content, the role of the professional human translator is imperative. However, that’s not to say there is no role for machine translation. In fact, in some situations, it may be the best way to go. What’s important is knowing which situation requires which type of translation.
For example, if your source content is non-marketing, simple in terms of grammatical structure, has short sentences and is literal, i.e. doesn’t contain idioms, clichés or colloquialisms, then machine translation may be ideal. Firstly, it will be free. And secondly, if the content is low value or has low visibility then if there are errors or inconsistencies, there will be little impact on the reader or the brand.
You could also add a proofreading step to your machine translation. This process is often referred to as post-editing machine translation; we simply call it hybrid translation as it involves both machine and human input. This proofreading step should be carried out by a professional human translator or linguist. It should result in error-free output similar to that of professional human translation, but it may not necessarily be idiomatic or ‘on brand’. This may be sufficient as a low-cost solution for low-value content that perhaps has slightly more visibility or may have more impact on the reader or the brand.
However, if your content is creative, has personality and tone, or is heavy in colloquialisms or metaphors, then you should use a professional human translator. Ideally, there should be a ‘learning period’ at the start of any localisation project where the content creators and the translators work together to define the brand personality for each market and build a style guide and glossary. There should also be an ongoing dialogue between the two parties to discuss specific translations as and when they arise. Just like a copywriter writing for a new brand, a translator needs time to understand the market, the brand and its persona. This will ultimately be more expensive than a machine translation (or a machine translation with an additional human proofreading step), but the output will be of a much higher quality, the meaning better conveyed and therefore more ‘on brand’.
Manage your readers’ expectations
The important thing, from our point of view, is that the brands or content creators make an informed decision on the type of translation they require, and that the customer understands the type of translation they are reading.
For example, if a customer reads some poorly translated copy, from a brand they admire and are usually loyal to, then it could very easily damage their perception of that brand and could negatively affect their buying habits. However, if that copy was clearly labelled as machine translation, at least the customer would be warned and would perhaps be less critical of the translation.
The same goes for websites or social media platforms that process a large amount of user-generated content. It would simply not make sense to invest in professional human translation for user comments and replies. ‘See Translation’ features (on Facebook, for example) make much more sense as they are free and immediate. Users are generally aware that the output is a machine translation. Their expectations are low and being able to get the gist of a comment in another language is often all you need, so it serves a very specific purpose in a very specific context.
However, if a customer reads a beautifully written piece, from a global brand, which is labelled as professional human translation, they will appreciate the extra effort that has been made to connect with them in their mother tongue, and their perception of that brand will most likely improve.
Use these icons to educate your audience
Whether you opt for professional human translation, machine translation or a hybrid model, there is clearly a place for all three types. They are not opposites, nor are they enemies. They all can, and should, exist.
Companies shouldn’t be embarrassed about publishing machine translation or, even worse, try to pass it off as professional human translation. In our opinion, what’s important is that companies let their customers know what they are reading so they can manage their own expectations.
It is for this reason that we have developed these simple, easily identifiable icons, to help brands inform their audiences of the type of translation they are reading:
Professional human translation
This icon is based on a human figure, translating the English letter ‘A’ into the Mandarin equivalent. It can be used by brands on website pages or documents that have been translated by a professional human translator, to highlight the effort and investment that has gone into localising this content. It can also be used by translators and translation companies on their websites, social media accounts and business listings to promote themselves as professional human translators and therefore purveyors of high-quality creative translations.
This icon is based on a simple robot figure, which represents all machine translation systems. It can be used by brands on website pages or documents that have, for whatever reason, been translated by a machine, warning the reader that there may be some mistakes or mistranslations, and that these are not the fault of the brand itself, but rather due to the limitations of machine translation.
This icon, an amalgamation of the previous two, represents machine translation that has been proofread or edited by a professional human translator or linguist. It can be used to inform readers that the quality should be similar to professionally translated content, but it may not be idiomatic or completely ‘on-brand’.
To help companies and brands inform their customers and be transparent about what they are publishing, we are making these icons available as a free download. They can be added to websites and print or digital content, such as white papers, brochures and e-books, so they can be clearly identified as machine, hybrid or professional human translation.
We are also making these icons freely available to translators and linguists. We think it’s important that professional human translators clearly identify themselves as such, differentiating their work from automated output and celebrating their contribution to a brand’s marketing collateral. They can use the icons as a badge of honour and to position themselves as providers of professional human translation, hybrid translation or both, within the translation market place.
We hope that this will go some way to help remove the stigma attached to using machine translation and also help to celebrate the effort and expertise that comes with professional human translation.
If you would like to download the icons and use them on your website or content, all you have to do is fill in a short form, agree to the Licence Agreement, and we’ll send you a link where you can download the files. Ready? Go to the Downloads Page.