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Language glues us together and we need it to communicate intelligently. We set the outcome we wish to achieve from a communicated idea, whether that be the emotive or intellectual response. 

No wonder then artificial intelligence makes concerted efforts to revolutionize this important human faculty. And it’s hard to imagine AI without language as it so depends on it.

NLP or natural language processing has made significant progress when it comes to the ability of language processing of AI. And has gone from being a predominantly academic endeavour to it being used excessively in real-world settings by businesses and individuals alike.

Professional translation services facilitate communication between people belonging to different linguistic groups. And enable one to deliver their message in languages they don’t themselves speak.

A brief history of Machine Translation, 1950 to 2000s – courtesy Researchgate

history of machine translation - 1950 to 2000

Why Precision and Accuracy Matter?

Precision and accuracy are two necessities without which translation won’t yield the desired results. If it isn’t precise, it’d fail to grab the attention; similarly, if it isn’t accurate, it’d fail to convey the intended meaning.

That’d lead to misunderstandings contrary to facilitating understanding between linguistically diverse groups. Consequences of which can be dire, from revenue loss to a bad name, for a business. 

It’s for this reason that accuracy is of primary importance when it comes to translations. Now, is AI fully equipped to deliver the translation that is accurate and precise or do we have to rely on human experts?

AI for Translation or Human Expert?

Put simply, one AI translation isn’t as accurate as one might want it to be. It’s still 60-90% accurate. Rightly so, therefore, one can’t rely solely on machine translation given how vulnerable it’s to mistranslations. 

However, if one goes for machine-assisted translation prompted by its speed and affordability, human-done machine translation post-editing services for businesses might render it just as good as done by human experts. 

Because business communication is much more complex and takes place within formal settings, much depends on how you communicate with your customers, clients from other businesses, and employees. It won’t be wrong to say customer loyalty and trust depend on effective business communications. And you’d not want to compromise that by leveraging AI alone, especially with its rate of accuracy being shabby. And its ability to overcome cultural differences and linguistic barriers looks doubtful, at least for now. 

Consequences of Miscommunications for Businesses

In a multilingual setting, even small misunderstandings and miscommunications could snowball into business-crashing errors. As a study from the Economist shows

  • A whopping 44% of the respondents say poor communication is responsible for delays or failure to complete projects. 
  • 18% of respondents report loss of sales due to communication problems.

Does Machine Translation Work?

The short answer is, yes, machine translation does work. It has worked wonders for eBay by expanding its international trade by 10.9% after the company deployed AI for machine translation of product listing titles. 

So without a doubt, AI translators do prove helpful to overcome language barriers but for general business communications, it’s yet to reach the pinnacle of accuracy.

Does machine translation work?

Artificial Intelligence VS Human Translation In Nutshell

Artificial Intelligence (Translation)

Pros

Cons

Fast

Can misinterpret translations

Can do yourself

Can pick up wrong words

There are “free” options, but usually need to buy add-ons

Translations don’t make sense

Human Translation (Services)

Pros

Cons

One to one communication

Human error, but there is room for improvement

Easy to adjust

Would cost more than apps, but you get the most accurate translations

Most accurate translation

Takes a little longer for delivery time

 

Let’s first take the pros and cons of Artificial Intelligence or machine translation.

Pros

  1. AI Translation is Very Fast and Offers Quick Turnaround Time

Artificial Intelligence translation leverages advanced AI and artificial neural networks to translate written or spoken words very fast. AI text translations are getting better at automatically translating languages and providing you with the first draft in a quick time. For faster translations, AI is unbeatable. It can translate hundreds and thousands of words almost instantaneously and saves a lot of time. 

  1. Can Do Yourself Using AI Translators

One of the pros of AI translators is that they’re easy to use and readily accessible. You don’t have to rely on professional translators. These AI-driven digital tools will suffice to help you translate written or spoken words and sentences from a foreign language to your mother tongue, and get quick results. 

  1. There are “Free” Options, But Usually Need to Buy Add-ons

There are a wide variety of free machine translation engines available to use for instantaneous translation needs. You can use Google Translate, Microsoft Translator, DeepL, and other such digital tools running on artificial intelligence with powerful neural machine translation systems and impeccable natural language processing (NLP) abilities. However, for enhanced capabilities “free” options have to be upgraded with paid add-ons to get the desired results.

Cons

  1. AI Can Misinterpret Translations

AI translations aren’t 100% accurate; they’re fast but not accurate. It lacks cultural understanding and the ability to contextualize meaning. Consequently, often misinterprets idioms and metaphors. Linguistic accuracy is essential for a business selling a product or offering a service in a foreign market. It’s an absolute necessity when it comes to healthcare and medical prescriptions.

In healthcare settings where it’s mandatory to arrange for patients with limited English proficiency or no English proficiency at all, professional interpreters and translators, resorting to AI translators while they’re imperfect, could put patients’ lives at risk.

Think of Google Translate, whose rate of accuracy is 90% for Spanish and 80-90% for Korean, Tagalog, and Chinese. At 10-20% inaccuracy, it’s not reliable in healthcare settings where miscommunication could lead to misdiagnosis and eventually to mistreatment, which could prove fatal for the patient and bring disrepute to the hospital. 

For lesser-known languages Farsi and Armenian, their accuracy is 67% and 55% respectively.

Example of a mistranslation …

mistranslation examples
  1. AI Translators Can Pick Up Wrong Words

Translation software fails to translate idioms and other cultural expressions. Running an idiom through an AI tool provides a word-by-word literal translation of it, which is wrong. In fact, research shows that 46% of Chinese idioms are mistranslated by machine translation tools.

Here’s an example of an AI translator picking up wrong words – courtesy The Correspondent

  1. AI Translations Don’t Make Sense

Machine translation has not advanced to the level where it could understand the contextual meaning, not just the literal meaning, of words. That is why often the software translated content doesn’t make sense to the reader. When taken out of context words just lose their meaning. Human translators on the other hand can tweak the content if a word or phrase or idiom has no alternative word or idiom or phrase in the target language.

What are the pros and cons of human translation?

Pros

  1. One to One Communication

Human translation accords businesses and individuals a means for one to one communication with translators who then understand your requirements and provide a tailored service. You cannot communicate your requirements to a machine! Also, assigning qualified translators ensures consistency so that both you and the translator are on the same page. 

  1. Easy to Adjust

Human translations are flexible, not rigid. That means it works according to your needs, not the other way around. You can translate the same document into multiple languages without losing its original meaning and get the desired results the way you want. Human translation means you’re working with trained linguists who can handle all kinds of texts, cultural issues, and words with multiple meanings. Therefore, they’re better positioned to adjust your translation to the local culture and language.

  1. Most Accurate Translation

Human translators don’t just translate words, they understand their meaning, context, tone, and emotional meaning, and replicate the same into the target languages. As a result, the original intended meaning is preserved no matter the language into which it’s translated. Plus, human translators bring natural fluency to the translated text. So much so, readers will not be able to tell whether they’re reading the source text or the translated one. Accurate translations will ensure your brand’s name is saved from embarrassing mistakes. After all, errors in translation can destroy your reputation.

Cons

  1. Humans Error, But There is Room for Improvement

Humans also can make mistakes and misinterpret certain words, especially if they’re not familiar with the target culture and its linguistic diversity. But there’s room for improvement. You can always ask for an edit till the copy is 100% accurate.

  1. Would Cost More Than Apps, But you Get the Most Accurate Translations

Human translation is expensive. It costs more than translation apps do. But you get 100% accurate translations when carried out by human translators. From picking up the mood and tone to understanding the context, a human translator can catch it all, and copy the meaning and emotion alike into the target language. A human translator would make sure that the translated copy is error-free and lacks inconsistencies. That will save you time and money that would otherwise go into proofreading the translation by a professional.

  1. Human Translation Takes a Little Longer for Delivery Time

Professional translators usually take longer to translate documents. Depending on the language pairs, specialism, and size of the document, delivery time will vary. A rough estimate would be 2,000 words a day for a standard translation. However, for more complex documents that are technical or scientific, the delivery time could be even longer. Simply put, human translation is a time-consuming process with a longer turnaround time. 

time it takes to translate

How AI Translation Tools Fare In Comparison to Human Translation When it Comes to ‘Confidentiality’

Businesses often have to translate commercially sensitive documents but turn to AI translation tools like Google Translate which isn’t confidentiality sensitive. It doesn’t guarantee your information will be kept confidential.

A professional translator on the other hand is a signatory to the “Non-Disclosure Agreement” and guarantees confidentiality of sensitive information shared with him/her.

Key Takeaways

  • AI translation tools like Google Translate are good for short-term translation needs. Say, for translation of a sentence or two. However, for sensitive business documents, AI translation falls miserably short. From mistranslations to issues of privacy, it has things to sort for it to become a go-to tool for businesses.
  • Human translation is accurate, in-depth, and has the ability to take context into account. On the other hand, Artificial Intelligence, though fast, is superficial or surface-level translation, and mostly loses intended meaning on translation into a target language.

It’s one thing to replicate words and quite another to replicate meanings. While AI excels in the former, it lags in the latter. Nonetheless, human translators have an edge over AI translators in this, as they can read through a text and come up with the author’s intended meaning behind the words he uses, and replicate the same meaning, tone, and emotion into the target language.

It’s true that AI translation is fast and we all kind of fall for instant translations. Human translation takes time, but the end result is more humane.  

Machine Translation is Cheaper

One of the biggest draws of AI translators is their cost-effectiveness. And organizations of smaller sizes and resources prefer it over human translation purely on the basis of low costs. So it’s an obvious choice for many to turn to Google Translate when they’re short on time and budget.  

It has become a custom of sorts for eCommerce businesses to machine translate product descriptions in bulk, and then get humans to post-edit the same.

Machine Translation Fails to Translate Creatives

Creatives like slogans are hard for automated tools to translate. Copywriters take ages to come up with witty yet meaningful slogans and online translation tools just fail to read their contextual meaning, hence impossible for them to translate such texts.

Then their words with lots of meanings and synonyms. And tools like Google Translate can’t identify which ones fit the context better.

Why Human Translation Is Better Than Google Translate

The need for translation arises for businesses when they’re expanding into foreign markets. Language barriers are the first challenge for your brand’s success in an overseas market. To overcome that, it has been a routine for businesses to deploy professional linguists to assist with language services like translation, interpretation, and transcription

You can either go for machine-generated translation or hire professional translators, depending on your requirements, time, and budget. However, there are 5 reasons that might convince you to opt for professional translation services instead of Google Translate or other such AI-powered translation tools.

Without a doubt, Google Translate is a revolutionary tool for quick translations on the go. However, if accuracy is something that matters most to you, any kind of machine translation (MT) no matter how advanced, should be your last resort. Here’s why …

  • A professional translator understands the subtle nuances of a language, including its grammatical structures, idioms, and words with different connotations in a foreign language. Google Translate doesn’t have that level of mastery of language.
  • Google Translate can translate only a handful of languages. For example, out of 6,909 languages in the world, it can translate 103, which amounts to only 1.5 per cent of all existing languages. Therefore, for the rest of the languages, human translators are inevitable.
  • A translation without linguistic understanding is bound to make errors. Google Translate often delivers unreadable sentences or sentences with fractured syntax that are meaningless. Professional translators on the other hand understand the language inside out and have a mastery of its grammar. The end result is, therefore, perfect translations that sound natural.
  • Google Translate misinterprets idioms by translating them literally. Such translations are far from the true meaning of idioms. However, professional translators find the best and most suitable alternative for an idiom in the target language in order to retain its intended meaning and tone.
  • Machine Translation is prone to inaccuracies, hence unfit for translation of creative content of high priority like marketing copy. If lead generation is the motive, human translators are a better choice for their translations are clear and accurate.

What’s best for you?

There’s no straightforward answer to what’s best for you, however, whatever choice you make should be made taking into consideration your needs and requirements. If it’s a high priority content that demands quality instead of quality and speed, it’s better to go with human translation no matter the cost. But if you have a bulk of content to translate from the source language into the target language, you can use machine translation for a super-fast first draft, and then get human translators specialized in the subject area to proofread and edit it and remove any inconsistencies, errors, and mistranslations.