Machine Translation: What Could Go Wrong?

Business, Language Service Provider (LSP)

With computers and artificial intelligence playing such a significant role in our lives, it’s tempting to turn to technology for your life sciences and medical translations. But before you make this decision, you’ll want to consider what could go wrong.

In business, it’s always smart to do a cost vs. benefit analysis before you move forward. Choosing how to get your documents translated is no exception. So, let’s talk about the costs of using machine translation.

Quality Control Issues

Although machine translation seems like a quick and easy solution to your life sciences translation needs, shortcuts don’t always pay off in the long run. Unfortunately, machine translation quality issues arise more often than you might expect. Even if you have a human being checking your documents for translation mistakes, since software is not capable of taking the context into account, you could easily end up with a translation that makes no sense.

Human translators, on the other hand, naturally understand the context of language. Unlike software, we understand emotions, non-verbal cues, and cultural differences, all of which have a big impact on the meaning of language. What this means for you is that when you choose a human translator you will have a translation with fewer mistakes in the first draft and a better quality draft means a better quality finished product.

In addition, you’ll spend less money on editing when you use a human translator. Because you are creating a document for the purpose of communicating meaning to other human beings, it makes sense that a draft translated by a human being would be of a higher quality. Keep in mind that successfully translating any document is about how to best communicate the meaning of the words. Again, a better quality draft means fewer edits needed before final approval.

Lack of Human Collaboration

If you use a machine to translate your medical documents, who do you turn to with questions about word choice and syntax? Beyond worries about machine translation quality issues, the lack of human involvement means you can’t collaborate with your translator.

There are times when collaboration is key to getting your document where you need it to be. For example, suppose you have several individuals who need to contribute to a single document. If  you are trying to communicate a complicated marketing message across several different markets, this project may require a lot of back and forth about getting the wording just right. Do you really want to risk losing that nuance by then using a machine to translate the document? 

While artificial intelligence (think Siri or Alexa) does a good job of imitating a creative thinker, in reality, it isn’t creative. So, trying to get a program to collaborate or ‘learn’ from you isn’t realistic. You can use the software to translate your message and hope it makes sense to the unknown target market, but this is really nothing more than gambling.

Do you really feel secure enough to gamble on your global business or leave your communication to the mercy of a machine that can neither give nor receive feedback? Yes, doing business requires taking some risks, but successfully doing business requires taking calculated risks. In medical translation, the calculated risk is to lean on an expert with experience living and working in a foreign market. 

When you work with a professional translation agency, like DTS Language Services, Inc., you can rest assured that your translation partner will take great care to collaborate with you and deliver professional translations every time.

Missing Cultural Nuances

Beyond the lack of appropriate quality control and the lack of human collaboration, there is one more big problem with machine translation. A computer algorithm cannot take cultural nuances into account as well as a human translator. These nuances such as the values and norms of each culture affect how the people within the culture communicate with one another. 

Now, you may object that these cultural differences are subtle and so won’t make much of a difference for your document translations. However, even subtle differences can cause confusion for, or worse, offend business associates and customers. Again, as you weigh the costs vs. the benefits, you have to ask whether you’re willing to accept the risk of machine translation problems. 

The Bottomline

While there are a few benefits to using machine translation (i.e., it’s fast, easy, and cheap), if you only focus on the benefits, you’re missing the costs that should also be part of your decision-making process. You don’t want to risk a shoddy translation undermining your brand, especially if you are trying to expand your global business into new foreign markets. The costs clearly outweigh the benefits in this case.

Because of these and other problems, machine translation is not likely the best solution for your life sciences and medical translation needs. Before you make a decision that you regret, consider talking with a professional team of translators who have the expertise and experience to effectively communicate your message to foreign markets.

Have questions? DTS Language Services, Inc. has answers. Contact us to discuss your medical translation project or request your quote.