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  • Yelena McCafferty

Why free machine translation may cost a lot


It’s hardly possible to find or imagine a business which doesn't use at least some most common modern technologies in its day-to-day operations. The days of paper-only records and fax machines are dying and being replaced. It seems only natural that companies with international trade links endeavour to use advanced technologies in tackling the language issue too.

I have now seen many websites using automated translation tools which convert the content from English into another language using machine translation. Not many of us are fluent in more than 2-3 languages to be able to run a test and see how flawed these translations are. The funny side apart, such converted texts not only don’t make sense, they are often counter-productive and misleading. If a local council or school has an important notice to make, it’s in their own interests to make sure that their announcement is not misinterpreted but is followed correctly.

Sadly, commercial companies sometimes fall into the same trap too. I came across this Russian notice in a respectable firm and while it can be understood, it is clumsy and reads more like a magic spell!

A door notice in Russian

I saw another bunch of blunders in a Russian leaflet of a well-respected museum where apart from some syntax inconsistencies most of errors were due to typesetting incompatibility.

A museum leaflet with a number of errors

It is absolutely vital to have all of the translations proofread, preferably by another translator within the team to make sure there are no typos, missed commas and that after the design layout all of the non-Latin characters have been copied and come out as they should.

Many professional translators do use translation memory tools which are entirely different from machine translation and, while helping to speed up the process, they do not replace the human input. They help translators to keep their project terminology-consistent, however, the translation process itself remains largely traditional: we use our skills and type up the creation.

Professional translations are not free, with the exception of those done pro bono. However, professional translations don’t have to be expensive either. We pay for a service in the same way as we would remunerate any other supplier. Machine translation exists and I believe it has its place in today’s day and age. However, the company’s damaged reputation as a result of trying to get a product for free can cost a lot in the long run.

[Tip: contact Talk Russian to discuss your Russian translation requirements on 0207 043 6940 or email enquiry@talkrussian.com.]

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