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The dangers of using free machine translation

The dangers of using machine translation [Photo: iStock/loops7]
in Retail and Ecommerce

Business is now more multinational than it has ever been, with an increasing number of companies of all sizes now operating in more than one country. Led by those in the ecommerce sector, firms across a range of different industries are offshoring, relocating or simply expanding into countries they have never operated in before.

This move to a multinational approach, however, necessitates companies becoming multilingual, particularly in the age of the internet. Although English remains the international language of business, and indeed the language of the internet, there are still many people particularly online, who do not speak English.

Data shows that there are now more than 750 million people online who speak Chinese primarily and over 200 million that speak Spanish, while Arabic, Japanese and other languages have also become more prominent as technology becomes more widely available. Businesses need to be able to adapt to these changes, and as they move into new markets, they must make sure their operations, on all levels, are multilingual.

The rise of online translation

As smaller companies become more prominent in their search for new deals and markets overseas, it can be tempting for firms to try to cut costs, even with something as important as translation services. Many may fall into the trap of using machine translation services to trim costs.

According to Google, in 2013, as many as 200 million people were making use of its Google Translate service every day. However, by 2016, this had risen markedly and become even more mainstream, with more than 500 million people, almost the population of Europe, using Google Translate services every day.

Such services as these becoming commonplace means that smaller companies may become tempted by the cost saving potential they offer. However, it’s important to consider the pitfalls that can come from using machine translation over expert services.

The pitfalls of using online translation

There are some risks that come with using online translators over an expert. These are not limited to, but can include:

  1. Literal translations: Machines like Google Translate do not have the ability to understand a piece of text in the same way a human translator does, which makes it difficult to get an accurate translation. While you may be able to create something roughly readable, chances are certain words and phrases will not go from one language to the other effectively, leaving you with something that is not entirely useful, and doesn’t entice business partners to work with you.
  2. Industry terminology: Another major pitfall of free online machine translation tools is that it does not possess the knowledge an expert translator will. For companies working in technology, marketing, ecommerce, law and engineering, this is particularly problematic. Terminology that is specific to these sectors cannot be translated effectively by machines that are not configurated to their sectors, and often the literal translations that come with free tools will turn technical documents into garbled and useless documents. An expert translator, on the other hand, can connect with clients in sectors to understand their business and the language that is specific to them to make sure translation are correct.
  3. Sentence structure: Sentences matter, and not every language will use sentences in the same way. While a human translator will rearrange the structure, to make sure a text reads grammatically correct, machines do not always do this well. It means that the output can be a piece that is readable and potentially usable, but which does not have the flow and style that makes it seem natural to a native speaker of the language. This can easily put off someone who may otherwise have been happy to do business with you, either as a partner, or even a customer.
  4. Alphabetical differentiation: Finally, one of the biggest problems with machine translation is that they are often just too simple, particularly when it comes to languages not using the western alphabets. Basic versions of Chinese, Japanese and Arabic alphabets, for example, means they have a limited ability to translate the more complicated nuances of English and other Latin-based languages, losing much in the way of meaning and tone as a result.

Online translation has become a more ubiquitous tool than ever, with the largest internet based firms like Google bringing machine translation to the masses in recent years. However, it’s important not to rely on these for professional reasons too heavily.

While they may work for giving a general idea of what text means, online translators are no match for experts, who bring industry knowledge and a strong understanding of both origin and target languages to make sure translated text is as useful and relevant as it can be.

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