Machine Translation: Is it viable from a quality perspective yet?

machine translationI’m responsible for Quality Assurance at Dynamic Language, a.k.a. making sure things are correct and look pretty. 🙂

A relatively new translation practice has come to our attention that has me somewhat concerned, however. Some companies in our industry are using machine translation in lieu of human translators, thereby marketing quick lower-cost translation services. While that may sound desirable to many clients, the process is far from what we would consider a “best practice”.

Here are the steps typically taken:

1. Run the document through machine translation software
2. A translator proofreads and edits the content.
3. Additional reviews may follow

The problem with this practice is that depending on the quality of the source content, machine translation can introduce a large number of errors. It’s often easy to tell when a document has been processed by a machine; everything is very literal and you often lose the context of the original document.

Try it yourself: Translate a document in Google Translate into a language of your choosing. Then, copy and paste the new text and translate it back into English. Chances are, your original document and your new document will differ greatly! (The image above shows text translated from English into French, then back into English. If you think the capitalization and sentence structure is bad here, try this exercise with Vietnamese, Chinese or another language that isn’t written in latin script!)

As a former newspaper editor, I can speak from experience when I say a poorly written document makes the editing process exponentially more difficult. And while writers (and translators) should trust their proofreaders to catch all of their mistakes, they should take time to clean up their own work.

If a proofreader has to edit for content and grammar and spelling and context, he or she is more likely to miss errors. Although low cost is extremely important for many buyers of translation services, we believe that quality should always come first.

Bottom line: Buyer Beware! You may unwittingly give poorly translated documents to a judge or a business contact or potential customers, and they are a direct reflection of you and your organization.

What do you think of Machine Translation plus Review? Would you feel comfortable using it?