5 Important Factors to Remember About Machine Translation

March 8, 2022
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What do you need to know to use machine translation?
Several benefits come from using automated translations with your global content, including instantaneous translations and potential cost reductions. But there are also some potential drawbacks if you don't use the technology in the right way.
There are a few factors to remember when you assess machine translation as a solution. When you take them into account early, you improve your chances of success.
It doesn't matter if you are just getting started with machine translation or you have previous experience with the technology.
Let's look at some factors you should remember…

When should I use machine translation?

Machine translation involves using artificial intelligence algorithms to translate content from one human language to another. You load your source content into the system, which then automatically translates it into your target language.
You might have heard that "Machine Translation is The Future"… and it is! With various high-profile machine translation projects being developed by some of the software industry's major players, it's fair to say that machine translation is here to stay.
There are some compelling benefits to using machine translation. These can include increased consistency, savings of time and budget, and quicker time to market.
But when should you use machine translation instead of human translation?
Despite recent improvements in machine translation quality, we are nowhere near a situation where the technology could completely replace human translation.
You should use machine translation only in those situations where there is a clear, strategic reason to do so.
For example, if you want quick (or even instant) translations with no human touches, machine translation can be ideal. But if translation quality and accuracy are important, the technology might not be the best option.
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How to evaluate machine translation for your content

How do you know if machine translation is the right solution for your specific content?
The first step is to look at the strategic purpose of your content. Before you can identify what type of translation you need, you first know why the translation exists.
A good way to evaluate your content's strategic purpose is to ask yourself questions such as:
  • What is the purpose of this content? Is it just for internal research? Is it for a customer-facing marketing campaign? Or for something else?
  • Who will consume the content? If it is customer-facing, machine translation is often unsuitable.
  • How quickly do you need the translations? Do they need to be instant or is several days suitable?
  • How much content needs to be translated? If you have vast volumes of content with a quick turnaround, sometimes machine translation is the only viable option.
Every piece of global content is different. Such questions will help you identify some of the important factors for your specific content.
It's always a good idea to get your translation provider involved in this process early. Their experience and expertise can help you make better decisions when choosing machine translation.

5 important factors to remember about machine translation

Working with machine translation is quite a different process from working with conventional human translation.
Various factors affect the usefulness of machine translation as a tool in your global content workflow.
Here are 5 important factors for you to remember about machine translation:

1. Automation can multiply translation disasters

Back in 2018, the Dow Jones stock market crashed suddenly in a way that nobody could have predicted. Multiple AI trading algorithms interacted with each other, dragging the market to an unexpected low.
Automation technologies — like machine translation — can help you operate quickly. But they can also get out of hand very quickly. If left unchecked, a content system that relies on machine translation could rapidly propagate mistakes in your content.

2. Legal understanding can't be automated

Another factor to remember is the legality of your translated content. A lot of your content probably has certain legal requirements.
The legal sector already uses artificial intelligence (AI) for various tasks. However, it can't be used for tasks that require understanding or decision-making, which are necessary for most business decisions. As a form of AI, machine translation also cannot handle most legal questions.
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3. Style and tone require post-editing

Some content only needs to communicate basic information — the style doesn't matter. Such content can be a suitable candidate for machine translation.
If you need to preserve the style and tone of your translated content, you need to add post-editing to your translation workflow. This involves using a human translator to edit the automatically generated translations. They will adjust the translations to ensure the style and tone remain consistent.

4. Cultural knowledge is key

Moving your company into a new market is not just about communicating in the local language. You also need to understand the cultural context of the content and how audiences might receive it.
For example, Japanese customers expect some polite small talk before you get to the point. Nordic countries prefer you to get straight to the point. Machine translation can't account for this type of cultural knowledge.

5. Language evolution is a real concern

Language changes. On a day-to-day basis, both the words and syntax of languages change subtly. According to researchers, this rate of change is increasing because of social media usage.
Human translators naturally adapt their translations to keep up with these changes. With machine translation, however, the language models can go "out of date" quite quickly. It is important to take this constant evolution of language into account.

How to use machine translation most effectively

How can you ensure you take these factors into account when you are considering machine translation?
The best way is to involve your translation provider in the decision itself.
Don't just come to your provider and say, "We want to implement machine translation for our content."
Instead, say to them "We're considering machine translation for this particular content. What do we need to know to decide if it's the right solution?"
Your provider will help you think over your decision. They will help you make the choice that actually makes sense for your company.
They will ask you questions like:
  • What translation accuracy do you really need?
  • Why are you considering machine translation?
  • How quickly do translations need to be delivered?
  • What is the volume of translations?
Together with your provider, you will identify if machine translation is right for you.

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