3 Reasons Human Translation Services Are Better Than Computer Translations

Clinical Trials Translation, Language Service Provider (LSP), Medical Translation Services

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Many companies that are new to the translation industry or in the beginning stages of taking their business global, look for shortcuts for getting professional translation services. This is understandable, especially when so many are operating on shoestring budgets. When clients are in need of valuable information ASAP (or even sooner), it’s not surprising that companies resort to machine translation.

But those who have been around a bit longer know that “shortcuts” don’t always result in accurate and consistent translations. In fact, many translators spend the majority of their time correcting machine errors. Although computers promise instant, free translations, do keep in mind: you get what you pay for.

Machine translation (MT) has been available since the 1990’s and we have to wonder why machines haven’t replaced human translators as providers of the best online translation services. Artificial Intelligence (AI) consistently outperforms humans at driving cars, diagnosing cancer, and investing in hedge funds (not to mention chess and Jeopardy!). But when it comes to translation, the human brain remains on top.

Why? There are at least three good reasons.

1. Context matters in language.

For any company with global reach, translation is a necessary part of doing business. Are computer translations up to your company’s standards? Only you can answer this question. However, we evaluate the quality of a translation according to two metrics: accuracy and fluency. Basically, a professional translation should sound natural to a native speaker and you will be hard-pressed to get this kind of quality from MT.

This is because the best online translation services rely heavily on the context in which a document will be read. Translators must take into account cultural sensitivities, native vernaculars, tone, and idiomatic phrasing. Juggling all of these pieces is something the human brain does naturally and as all teachers of languages will attest, this is the hardest thing to teach a non-native language learner. Will a computer ever be able to learn these subtleties? The jury’s still out.

Beyond this, often achieving the highest quality translation means building on a creative and even artistic interpretation of the original text. So far, at least, humans are simply better than machines at this kind of task.

2. Humans invented language.

Machines tend to be very good at tasks that are rooted in objectivity. Whether completing massive calculations, recognizing complex patterns in huge data sets, or identifying the best route for you to take to work each morning, artificial intelligence functions best when solving problems with clear mathematical or physical rules.

Although natural languages exhibit some rule-like behavior, these rules, which are more like conventions, were invented by human beings to communicate with other human beings and they continue to evolve. The result? While machine translation works fairly well for sentences, computers fall down at the document level.

For example, when a computer encounters a new phrase, e.g., the name of a new app or pharmaceutical drug, showing up several times in the same document, it may translate it several different ways, which can make the document harder to follow. It turns out that translating sentence-by-sentence leads to inconsistencies and inaccuracies due to the lack of objectivity in language.

Also, we continue to measure the performance of MT according to whether a translated text sounds like it was translated by a human being. So not all errors are equal. It’s true that algorithms for translation have improved and will continue to improve over time. Still, even with fewer word errors, machines are more likely than humans to commit errors that misrepresent the intended meaning of the text, i.e., semantic errors.

3. Humans understand other humans.

At the end of the day, professional translation services give you the opportunity to communicate with a diverse international audience. But if you forget who you’re trying to reach, you will lose the connection that drives your business. Human translation ensures that you maintain the heart and soul of your message.

While MT might work for small, non-crucial projects where a general understanding of the text is sufficient, important projects intended for a global audience require human translations. Human translators read more than words on a page. They understand intention, tone, and how to elicit a necessary emotional response from your target audience. For reliability and accuracy in communication, you can’t beat the human brain.

However, even if you feel machines meet your standards in terms of accuracy and efficiency, you should also consider how your customers might react if they suspect you are using a computer to communicate with them. Global clients do not want to be thought of as secondary to your primary audience. Ideally, moving between languages would be seamless and your clients around the world wouldn’t even question whether the content they’re getting was created for them. At a minimum, though, you want your clients to see that you are taking the time to consider their specific needs and that starts with getting the language right.

It’s quite possible that one day computers will develop a human-like command of natural languages. But that day is further away than most people think. Part art and part science, language translation services will remain the domain of human translators for the foreseeable future.

Human Translation Won’t Break the Bank

Many businesses in need of professional translation and localization are under the mistaken impression that it costs a fortune to get accurate and fluent translations. This is simply not true. If you follow some simple money-saving tips, you will get a high quality translation on time and within budget:

  • Choose a professional language service provider with reliable project managers and subject matter experts with the bandwidth to handle large projects.
  • Globalize units of measurement, time, and currency throughout the document.
  • Avoid using text on images.
  • Reserve space for text expansions.
  • Accurately identify languages and specific dialects as needed to avoid needing to have the translation redone.

At DTS, we’re quite happy to use computer-assisted translation tools as a complement, rather than an alternative, to the work of our human translators. We understand how important accuracy is when it comes to reaching global audiences and our people focus on delivering accurate translations the first time, every time.

Contact us to request a free custom quote or call us at 800-524-0722. We’re here to help you get results!