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In recent years, the drive to automate as many processes as possible, using rapidly-developing technology and artificial intelligence, has led to many breakthroughs. Machine translation (MT) is surely one of them. Last month, we briefly explained what machine translation is, how it works, and which tools are the best and most used. In this article we explore the contexts and applications where machine translation is useful, as well as cases where it still struggles to perform as well as a qualified translator.


When can I employ machine translation?

There are numerous reasons to look into machine translation, particularly to save time in low-stakes environments.

Internal communication: if a corporation has offices in multiple nations, communicating between territories can be difficult. Thus, machine translation can minimise the language barrier between departments and allow for easier informal communication within the organisation.

Some external communication: machine translation can be used to communicate more effectively with external stakeholders and clients. An online shop, for example, can translate international customer feedback to make it a true communication asset, allowing everyone to see the reviews. Online retailers share user reviews from around the world that can be automatically translated in an instant. These translations may not be perfect, but they make other people’s experience with the product accessible to potential customers, providing them with a sufficient amount of information.

Online customer service: specific consumer requests, emails, and customer care chats can be translated to break the language barrier between the company and its international clients. Building loyalty requires a close interaction with customers.

Automatically translating your product information in your catalogue can be a good idea for an online store. This is especially useful when the descriptions of some of your products are very brief and you wish to offer your products to a wide range of international customers.

As demonstrated, machine translation can be used in certain scenarios and you have probably made use of at least some of them. However, if you want to get the most out of your material, you may want to hire a language expert. They will understand how to select the best type of translation for your topic, demands, and aspirations.


What is the human role in translating today?

Although machine translation has been improving, it is crucial to understand that the intervention of a human translator or professional is often required.


Machine translations of sentences can provide a solid foundation. But they do not always take context into consideration, can easily distort the content, and normally completely fail to convey the subtler intents of the message. This is where post-editing comes in: a translator carefully reviews the automatically translated text. They can change expressions, words, or sentences and ensure grammatical accuracy to meet the client’s expectations.

Machine translation software may not only save the translator time in this situation, but it may also save you money. The expert will charge you less if they spend less time working on your material. This is only true, however, if the machine translation software you or your service provider uses is high-quality and reliable. If not, a post-editor may have to completely rewrite the text, which takes time and costs more. Quality MT software is not free and may be more costly than a quality professional translator. There is also the initial input to consider, as any MT software needs a large quantity of material, already translated according to your needs, to learn your individual specifics before it can apply them with any accuracy.


Each industry, corporation, or sector has its own set of codes, language, and terms. This allows the company to retain its own identity. Even though certain automatic translation engines can now learn terminology, most content requires a specialist to identify terms that need to be updated or adapted. This intervention may be carried out during post-editing, however it may be fairly expensive to train an MT tool to adapt to your specific terminology and tone of voice.

Human translators are indispensable

With the advent of globalisation, most businesses decide to go global to expand not only their visibility but also their reputation. As a result, correctly optimising their content becomes essential. Even though machine translation can process certain types of content, such as short-lived messages, it has limitations. It must have expert post-editing stage to satisfy the client’s expectations.

Above all, specialised translators can conduct numerous forms of translation that artificial intelligence cannot. A sworn translator, for example, may correctly interpret legal documents while adhering to all of the specific procedures required for these texts. With the assistance of a language professional, you will be able to employ the art of nuance to convey a specific mood, target specific persons, or adapt a specific term. A competent and experienced human translator will manage these aspects.


Machine translation’s limitations

When it comes to machine translation, it is best to proceed with caution. You should carefully consider the purpose of your translated documents and keep in mind that an unedited automated translation may harm the reputation of your organisation, reduce your credibility, or even cause business losses.

Special care should be given to the translation of the following documents, to name just a few:

  • Legal documentation: the stakes of legal translation are extremely high. Even seemingly minor ambiguities or inaccuracies may cause misinterpretations or result in unintentional legal loopholes.
  • Financial records: if a rough translation is acceptable in a simple e-mail, it has no place in documentation including figures crucial to the company’s future.
  • Promotional or picture content: a slogan or product name cannot be appropriately adapted to the destination country by an automatic translation. Think of wordplay, idiomatic expressions, culturally specific words or phrases – they most certainly cannot be translated word-for-word and machine translation in most cases still does not pick up such nuances, let alone is able to think as creatively as a marketing translation professional.
  • Commercial paperwork used in sales: thanks to the internet, most companies nowadays sell internationally. To maintain credibility in all target markets, you should strive for clear, localised, and user-friendly materials in all customers’ native languages. If machine translation can be used to translate online reviews, it is a less desirable option for quotes, invoices, catalogues, or advertisements.
  • Medical content: risking automatic translation and mistranslating a patient’s record, package leaflet for a medicine, or a medical device user guide can have serious effects on people’s health and wellbeing.

It goes without saying that any document with strategic significance must be treated with extreme caution, or it will do the organisation a disservice (or worse). Automated translation may sound appealing in terms of simplicity and saving time, but it has to be said that machine translation alone cannot (yet) produce quality results. At the very least, such a translation must be carefully edited by a specialised translator if it is to be used for external and official communication.

Specialised translation agencies can assist and advise businesses on their translation needs in order to best serve their interests around the world. Their teams of translators, reviewers, and post-editors with extensive knowledge and skill are sure to produce the best results.

Alamma is one of these language service providers. We will be happy to discuss your needs and wishes to help you succeed at home and abroad! Write to us at