Free online translation tools such as BabelFish and Google Translate are widely used nowadays by companies both large and small to translate their website content.

Many companies seem to think that making use of such tools, rather than pay a skilled, human translator, is a ‘no-brainer’ – they can use it to almost instantly translate all of their content, from any language into any language, for free, at the click of a button.

The phrase ‘too good to be true’ should be springing to mind at this point, and as any human translator or even language enthusiast will tell you, free online translation tools are a false economy and hugely unreliable.

Collecting free translation ‘bloopers’ has become something of an amusement for translators, and numerous sites exist compiling examples of them. However, for the companies which have fallen foul of the machine’s mistranslation, the situation is far from amusing.

Take a south-west brewery’s website as an example; Google Translate has failed to correctly find a French term for the quintessentially English word ‘pub’, frequently used throughout the site, and has consequently kept the English word – which in French happens to mean ‘advert’. The company has therefore lost significant credibility and one of their strongest ‘identity’ words has been literally lost in translation.

Machines will never be able to analyse languages like the human brain; just think of how many words have multiple meanings dependent on context, or how your brain instinctively sorts out a complex sentence structure for you so you understand – machines cannot do this and the result of their attempt to ‘follow the rules’ will often be disastrous.

Perhaps even more seriously, a recent article in the May/June edition of the ITI Bulletin highlights the little-considered aspect of data security. To quote from Jörg Porsiel’s article; “But, and it is a big but, users usually underestimate or are completely unaware of what actually happens with their data, which they have allowed to be translated somewhere online. The users of this supposedly free service actually pay a high price for their machine translations: their (highly) personal data, unwittingly uploaded onto a server, has been revealed to strangers and can be used and abused by third parties.

The moral of this tale, then? Choose quality, choose consistency, choose accuracy. Choose a human.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *