Posted by: sbilingual | March 16, 2010

Machine or Human Translators? — Don’t Let Things Get Lost in Translation!

Machine Translations seem so wonderfully simple, don’t they? You open the document. You select the text you want to be translated. You press the “Translate” icon, and PRESTO! In a couple of seconds you get an immediate translation in whatever language you want. But what, exactly, was translated? If you are fortunate enough to know the language you have translated your document into, most likely you’re going to notice problems.

MT Softwares consist of dictionaries and algorithms that compose a sentence according to grammar rules of a language. But the inherent difficulty in machine translation is that it does not discern the context and intended meaning the way humans can.

EXAMPLE: When the CIA inaugurated its first English-Russian-English translation computer, one of the participants asked how one could check and see that the translation was the way it should be. The developers of the translation engine typed in the English expression, “out of sight, out of mind,” and received an answer in Russian. To verify the Russian translation, the developers typed the result back into the machine. The translation was not long in coming. The returned English translation was, “invisible idiot.” There is a similar incident with the translation of, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26) being translated into, “The vodka is good, but the meat is rotten.”

If you do not want your material to be turned into a meaningless word mesh, consider using the services of a professional translation agency. Native speaking human translators deal with meanings rather than words. And when considering a translation agency, there are a few simple questions you should ask to verify qualifications. The shortlist includes:

    1. Do you have a client list and testimonials?

    2. Can you “localize” your translation, so it can be understood by my employees or target audience?

    3. Will you provide a sample translation? (Make sure you get feedback from your target audience on the accuracy of the translation.)

    4. Do you use any type of translation memory (TM)?

    5. Does anyone proof the finished translated product?

    6. What guarantee do you give if I am not satisfied? What specific steps will be taken to correct any issues?

It is true that machine translators promise uber speed and low cost. But if you intend to create market-ready translations, accuracy is of utmost importance.

If you need an impeccable translation of documents, please contact the Bilingual Resources Group. We offer translation and interpretation services for 90 different languages! Call us at 504-253-0364, or visit our website at


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